The intricate dance between trauma and addiction is more than just a coincidental pairing; it's
an intense interplay many experts have passionately studied and discussed. As we delve into
the connection between trauma and addiction, we'll uncover layers of complexities, revealing
insights that may be the key to unlocking inner peace for many. This article promises to
illuminate the profound relationship between these two facets of the human experience, offering
a deeper understanding for those interested in the subject.

The Basics: What is Trauma?

In our journey to explore the interconnection between trauma and addiction, it's vital first to
understand trauma's essence. Often seen as a cornerstone in many emotional struggles,
trauma is a vast territory with profound implications.

Defining Trauma

Hand reaching out from the water. trauma and addition counseling near me 11769

At its core, trauma refers to unexpected and deeply distressing experiences that leave lasting marks on one's emotional well-being. These aren't mere events. They're experiences that linger, often profoundly altering the psyche.

Types of Trauma

● Physical Trauma: Typically involves bodily harm or injury. It can be due to accidents,
violence, or any event causing physical harm.
● Emotional Trauma: Stemming from intense negative experiences, like bullying,
betrayal, or loss, that affect the emotional psyche.
● Psychological Trauma: Often results from long-term abuse, neglect, or exposure to
distressing events, deeply affecting mental health.

Impact of Trauma on Daily Life

Trauma doesn’t just reside in the past; it projects into one’s daily existence. It can manifest in
myriad ways - from disrupted sleep patterns and anxiety spikes to difficulties forming or
maintaining relationships. Every traumatic event, regardless of its nature, possesses the power
to ripple through various facets of daily life.

Understanding Addiction: More than Just Dependency

Mom and son leaning on one another. Where to go when you need someone who understands. Anxiety counseling near Commack, NY

As we transition from trauma, grappling with another challenging facet: addiction is pivotal. It's
easy to reduce addiction to mere dependency, but such an oversimplification misses the profound depths of this experience. To genuinely understand its interplay with trauma, we must
first delve into the intricacies of addiction.

Defining Addiction

At its essence, addiction is the compulsive need for a substance or behavior, pursued
regardless of the harm it might cause. It's not just a craving; it's a relentless pull that often
overrides logic and self-awareness.

Differentiating Types of Addictions

● Physical Addiction: This involves the body's dependence on a substance, where its
absence can lead to withdrawal symptoms. It's the body crying out for its "fix."
● Psychological Addiction: While there might not be physical symptoms, the mind
becomes fixated on the substance or behavior, seeing it as a means of coping or finding

Common Substances and Behaviors People Get Addicted To

From alcohol, nicotine, and opioids to behaviors like gambling, eating, or even internet usage,
the spectrum of addiction is vast. They all have in common their potential to be used as tools for
numbing pain, often stemming from unresolved trauma. As we'll soon discover, healing trauma often necessitates confronting these addictive behaviors head-on, recognizing them not as isolated issues but interwoven with traumatic experiences.

The Connection Between Trauma and Addiction": A Deeper Dive

Diving deeper into the confluence of trauma and addiction illuminates a landscape of
interdependence and complex causality. To truly appreciate the breadth of this relationship, we
must delve beneath the surface, identifying the intricate ways these two worlds collide and fuse.

Coping Mechanisms: Substance Use and Trauma

Trauma can leave emotional wounds that individuals might instinctively want to numb or
escape. Substance use often emerges as a makeshift solution, offering temporary relief from
haunting memories or overwhelming emotions. It's not so much about the high but about
seeking respite from the low.

Brain Chemistry: The Shared Alteration Pathway

Both trauma and addiction have profound impacts on the brain's reward systems. Traumatic
events can alter the brain's neurotransmitter systems, making one more susceptible to
substance misuse. In contrast, addictive substances can amplify trauma's effects on these
systems, creating a feedback loop of enhanced vulnerability.

Emotional Escapism: The Need to Numb

Beyond just the physical, there's an emotional dimension to consider. Trauma survivors might
turn to substances to dissociate from their traumatic memories. This "emotional escapism"
offers a temporary sanctuary, allowing individuals to distance themselves from distressing
feelings, even for a fleeting moment.

Mechanisms of Their Interplay

In this intricate web of trauma and addiction, the mechanisms that govern their interplay are as
profound as diverse. By dissecting these mechanisms, we can better appreciate how trauma
sets the stage for addiction and vice versa. It's a dance of causality, where each partner
influences the other's movements.

Avoidance Behavior: Dodging Traumatic Emotions

A primary mechanism that fosters addiction in trauma survivors is the urge to avoid trauma-
related emotions. For many, substances offer a sanctuary, a reprieve from the relentless weight
of traumatic memories. They serve as a shield, protecting the individual from confronting painful
emotions head-on.

Trauma-Induced Brain Changes: Setting the Stage for Addiction

The impact of trauma on the brain is profound. Areas like the amygdala (responsible for
emotional reactions) and the prefrontal cortex (associated with decision-making) change post-
trauma. This restructuring can increase vulnerability to addiction, as the brain's natural defenses
and judgment faculties become compromised. The substances or addictive behaviors often
exploit these weakened defenses, further deepening the connection.

The Vicious Cycle: Trauma Fuels Addiction and Vice Versa

A survivor might initially turn to substances to cope with trauma, but over time, the addictive
behavior can exacerbate trauma symptoms. For instance, substance abuse might lead to
traumatizing situations, or it might amplify feelings of guilt, shame, and self-loathing—thus
further entrenching the traumatic experience.

Breaking the Cycle: Healing and Recovery

Picture that says "recovery is worth it". Addictions counselor near Smithtown, NY.

Understanding the deep connection between trauma and addiction catalyzes breaking this
complex cycle. It brings us to the important question: How can healing and recovery occur
within this context? Focusing on treatments and approaches that tackle trauma and addiction
head-on is essential to pave the way for a more hopeful future.

Tailored Treatments: A Dual-Focus Approach

Effective treatments can't afford to look at trauma or addiction in isolation. Therapies must be
tailored to address both, thereby dismantling the underpinning cycle. For instance, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be adapted to confront the underlying traumatic experiences
while equipping individuals with coping strategies for addiction.

Specialized Therapies: EMDR and Trauma Processing

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an innovative therapy designed to
help process and reframe traumatic memories. It doesn't just stop at the trauma; it creates
emotional stability, which can be pivotal in treating addiction.

Community and Support: The Role of Safe Spaces

The journey of recovery is rarely a solo endeavor. Peer support groups, community resources,
and family can play crucial roles. Regarding facilities, it's important to look for the right
Newburgh NY
rehab that offers a conducive environment for trauma and addiction recovery.
Characteristics of the best facilities for addiction rehab in Newburgh, NY, often include
comprehensive dual-diagnosis treatment plans, experienced staff, and a strong emphasis on
community building.


We unearth a complex, intertwined relationship in shedding light on the connection between
trauma and addiction. Understanding this nexus is invaluable for more effective interventions
and holistic healing. Trauma and addiction can be addressed with the right knowledge, tools,
and support, leading to a brighter, healthier future.

Unfortunately, being a survivor of trauma or abuse is exceedingly common. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center,one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old. Additionally, they also found that one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.

Being a survivor of abuse can be challenging, thankfully with some self-care in place you can begin your healing journey to a healthier you.  That journey from feeling scared, afraid, angry and/or alone to a place of peace and acceptance can be an empowering one. Regardless of whether your trauma was recent or happened years ago, a daily self-care regimen will help you cope with the trauma that still affects you today.

1. Quality Sleep

An essential component of maintaining optimum physical, mental, and emotional health is ensuring you get adequate sleep each night. According to The Sleep Foundation,  “while sleep issues after a traumatic experience can be distressing, they may also be an important opportunity for treating and healing from trauma. Research suggests that being able to sleep after a traumatic event can reduce intrusive trauma-related memories and make them less distressing.” Additionally, getting adequate sleep helps to improve memory, increase positive mood and decrease stress.

2. Meditate

Meditating for just five to ten minutes can have some really positive benefits including: boosting immune response, regulating stress levels, increasing focus and elevating mood. Headspace (the App) now has a program on Netflix that not only guides you through meditations but also explains why and how a particular exercise can help you.  I’ve also always been a big fan of the App Insight Timer. I find guided meditations are often easier for people to start off with and you can then work your way into solely music, nature sounds or silent meditations. For anxious folx, guided meditation can help to give you a focus point so it is not so overwhelming in the beginning. 

3. Exercise

Exercise is beneficial for just about everyone, but for trauma survivors it can also be a way to release pent-up emotions you have relating to what has happened to you. The type of exercise is not really as important, as engaging in a daily practice of release. If you like to dance, do some Zumba, if you are more of a yoga lover, go with that. For some, taking kickboxing or jiu-jitsu can help them feel more in control after an assault and better able to defend themselves. No matter what you choose remember that exercise should be an act of self-care, meaning it should be something you enjoy- not a punishment. 

4. Positive Affirmations

For many survivors there is a good-deal of shame and guilt that comes with what has happened to them. For those reasons, it is all the more important to really focus on programing yourself with positive thoughts and beliefs. For example: “I am loved,” “I am worthy,” “I am valued,” “I am strong,” “I am enough.” I often tell client’s to pick an opposite thought to their negative self-talk, so if your inner “Karen” is saying: “I am disposable”, you say to yourself: “I am worthy and deserving of love, respect and affection”. There is a really amazing App that spams your phone, however often you set it, to give you positive affirmations called “I Am”. If its a struggle for you at first to come up with your own affirmations, I really recommend it.

This process of changing that inner voice takes time and truly is a practice so be gentle with yourself. You will have days where it works great and other days where you cannot seem to get “Karen” to stop talking. It’s okay, just take it one step, one moment at a time. 

5. Support

Support is critical need for healing, surround yourself with people who build you up, cheer you on and pick you up when you are down. If you have a solid support system don’t be afraid to engage them, by calling a friend or family member, attending a support group and/or finding a therapist. If your support system is lacking, use a smartphone app or the Meetup website to find a local, like-minded group and make some new friends.

Often times survivors feel alone and like no one can or will understand how they feel, or that they will be judged for what happened to them. However, as said in the beginning abuse is more common than we would like to believe in this country. Sharing your struggles with people who understand and care about you and your well-being is an important aspect of your healing journey. If you are a sexual abuse survivor and need some words of advise from others who have been through it but are not ready to take that step of opening up just yet, I highly recommend Dear Sister by Lisa Factora-Borchers and Aishah Shahidah Simmons - a book of letters from survivors of sexual abuse to other survivors. 

Are you a survivor of trauma or abuse? A licensed mental health professional can help you so you don’t have to go through this alone. Give our office a call today so we can set up a time to talk.

Keep Shining,

Jamie Vollmoeller, LCSW 

usercrossmenu linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram