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watercolor painting in grays and blues depicting person trapped in thought bubble - trauma and addictionTo understand the origins of addiction often requires an examination of personal trauma. Every person reacts to negative circumstances differently, but each deserves an equal opportunity to heal.

What Is Trauma?

The American medical community first investigated the impact of trauma with soldiers in the Civil War. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) states that terms for how servicemen reacted to the terrors of war included “soldier’s heart” and “nostalgia.” Then, “the advent of heavy explosives in World War I led to the attribution of symptoms to ‘shell shock’, giving a more physiological description of the effects from explosions.”

However, while this trauma was acknowledged, NCBI indicates that “a prevailing attitude remained that the traumatic stress response was due to a character flaw.” So begins the stigma surrounding trauma and mental illness. In fact, NCBI adds that during World War II, “military recruits were screened in an attempt to identify those ‘who were afflicted with moral weakness’, which would prevent them from entering military service.”

A History of Trauma

Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, more progressive research included not just the prevalence of military service and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but also civilian issues such as adverse childhood experiences, crime-related trauma, domestic and interpersonal violence, and sexual assault and rape. Yet it still took nearly 40 years before other significant traumatic experiences, such as brain injuries, multiple traumas, natural disasters, and the effects of terrorism were included in the scope of care.

Today, there’s been tremendous change in the definition and acknowledgement of the long-term effects of trauma, leading to more successful trauma-informed healthcare and policies.

According to the Trauma-Informed Care Implementation Resource Center (TICIRC), “trauma results from exposure to an incident or series of events that are emotionally disturbing or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, and/or spiritual well-being.”

Types of Trauma & Its Impact

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) indicates that both children and adults can experience multiple types of trauma, which include:

  • Bullying
  • Community violence
  • Complex trauma
  • Disasters
  • Early childhood trauma
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Medical trauma
  • Neglect
  • Physical abuse
  • Refugee trauma
  • Sexual abuse
  • Sex trafficking
  • Terrorism and violence
  • Traumatic grief


Additionally, children who suffer traumatic experiences (also known as adverse childhood experiences or ACEs) are more likely to have alcohol and substance abuse problems as adolescents and adults. Comparing individuals with four or more ACEs to those without, TICIRC reports that adults with high ACEs scores were:

  • “12 times as likely to attempt suicide.”
  • “10 times as likely to have injected street drugs.”
  • “7 times more likely to consider themselves alcoholics.”

Why? To deal with the pain and stress of trauma, adolescents and adults use “maladaptive behaviors” as coping mechanisms, even though these often cause additional harm. Trauma also causes inadequate emotional dysregulation, which is often defined as someone’s inability to properly regulate their emotional reactions.

Unfortunately, once someone is trapped in this loop, it’s difficult to break free of it. Without the right kind of therapeutic and individualized treatment, some people experience multiple traumatic events. NCTSN notes that “research studies have shown that adolescents who engage in problematic substance use are more likely to experience traumatic events and develop PTSD, depression, violent behavior, suicide, and other mental health problems compared to those who do not use substances.”

Addressing Trauma Leads to More Effective Addiction Treatment

No one ever intends to develop substance use disorder (SUD) or alcohol use disorder (AUD). For most people, a combination of various risk factors—such as genetics, environment, trauma, and others—leads to the brain disease of SUD or AUD.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness states that decades ago, few addiction treatment approaches could handle the challenges of dual diagnoses. For example, if someone was depressed because they suffered emotional and physical abuse as a child and used alcohol as a coping mechanism, clinicians would think it impossible to manage the mood disorder because that individual was drinking. Now, progressive treatment is designed to break that destructive health cycle by identifying and resolving both conditions.

At Twin Lakes Recovery Center, a leading Atlanta-area addiction treatment center, our board-certified professionals provide various forms of therapeutic methods—including individual, group, and family programming—to help people not only acknowledge trauma, but also healthfully process and move beyond it. Nothing can change the past, but we’re all fully capable of forging a new future on our terms.

If you or someone you love is suffering because of trauma and addiction, talk to one of our admissions specialists right away about how the trauma-informed approach at Twin Lakes can help.

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