Emotional, Physical, and Sexual Trauma in Addiction
Although often overlooked, emotional, physical, and sexual trauma lies at the heart of many types of addictions. Our recognition of trauma in addiction as a root cause for it isn’t new. Since the 1970s, treatment professionals have understood the role of trauma in addiction development through substance abuse disorders and relapse.
In recent years, however, there has been resurgence in awareness and therefore treatment of trauma in addiction services by way of focusing on dual diagnosis, or as co-occurring disorders.
Overall, it is generally accepted that a history of childhood emotional neglect, sexual, or physical abuse is common among people undergoing treatment for alcoholism and may be a factor in the development of alcohol use disorders as well as addictions to other substances and behavioral addictions such as sex addiction, gambling, and food addiction.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), defines trauma broadly as a stress that “causes physical or emotional harm from which you cannot remove yourself.” Furthermore, trauma is subjective, which means that the individual’s internal beliefs and their sensitivity to stress, is truly what defines a person’s experience as traumatic; it is not up to a therapist, family member, or any other outsider to decide whether or not an experience was traumatic.
Trauma can be from abuse or neglect but, it can also be from other frightening experiences, such as a car accident, bullying, sudden life change or near-death experience. Trauma can also be experienced either firsthand or witnessed. Other traumatic experiences include growing up in a home with an alcoholic or addicted parent or even any other home life where children are told to bury their feelings. Because of the trauma, the person experiences intense fear or helplessness, and this can lead to serious long-term struggles with depression, anxiety, and furthermore, trauma in addiction becomes evident with the development of addictive or impulsive behaviors.
Findings on Trauma in Addiction
Compared to the general population, which has physical abuse rates of 8.4%, the rate for alcoholics has been reported at 24% for men and 33% for women. The rate of sexual abuse in the general population is about 6%, yet the rate for alcoholics is at 12% for men and 49% for women. Rates of childhood emotional abuse and neglect are likely to be just as prevalent among alcoholics as physical and sexual abuse but it is difficult to know for sure because this type of abuse is often underreported.
Relationship: Trauma in Addiction
In some cases, addiction develops in the trauma in addiction development stems from an attempt to self-medicate. It is painful to think about the trauma and some people relive the traumatic event or event even on a daily basis and therefore they will turn to drugs, alcohol, or certain behaviors in order to escape or numb their feelings: fear, powerlessness, depression, and anxiety.
Drug use also serves to may allow people to disconnect from their feelings, numb their feelings of guilt or rage, feel relaxed or in control, as well as cope with or reduce anxiety or suicidal thinking. Another noteworthy aspect of trauma in addiction is that many people get a feeling of camaraderie or acceptance from other drug users, so, in some ways they are reproducing the family unit, again, in a dysfunctional way.