There is a strong connection between childhood trauma and substance abuse. Research shows that people who experience traumatic events like abuse or neglect as children are more likely to engage in problematic substance abuse. Even those who witness traumatic events but aren’t directly involved in them are at a higher risk for abusing substances.
Sadly, abusing drugs or alcohol sets a person up for further traumatic experiences. When under the influence, they’re more likely to engage in risky behaviors like driving while intoxicated, having unprotected sex or getting into physical fights. It’s a difficult cycle to break, but it can be done with specialized drug treatment in Phoenix AZ.
Let’s cover the reasons why childhood trauma and substance abuse are closely related and ways to address both problems.
How Childhood Trauma Affects the Brain
To understand the relationship between childhood trauma and substance abuse, it’s helpful to know how traumatic experiences affect the brain’s development. The human brain has the ability to respond and adapt to environmental stimulation. As the brain begins growing and maturing, it creates certain neural connections and discards others.
In other words, the brain is shaped by life’s experiences. While many of life’s experiences are positive, some are negative and can block or modify the brain’s development. Repeated trauma, in particular, can change the way a person thinks, feels and acts.
Here are some of the most significant ways that trauma can change the brain:
- Reduced activity in the hippocampus (responsible for learning and memory), making it difficult to tell the difference between the actual traumatic event and the memory of it
- Amygdala (emotional and survival center) goes into overdrive, acting just as it would if you were experiencing the trauma for the first time
- Suppressed prefrontal cortex that makes it harder to control your fear. Instead, you’re stuck in a reactive state
- Brain stays in a state of hypervigilance, suppressing memory and impulse control
Can the Effects of Trauma Be Reversed in the Brain?
Because trauma causes changes in different parts of the brain, it might seem impossible to reverse it. However, the human brain is adaptable, and you can heal from past trauma. The problem is that many people are unaware of this and don’t access the help they need.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to form new connections. This is important for a brain that has suffered trauma because it doesn’t have to be stuck in this cycle. So how can you rewire your brain to reverse trauma’s damaging effects? The key is overcoming the emotional trauma you experienced.
Here are some of the ways you can heal a traumatized brain:
- Medications to increase neurotransmitters in the brain
- Participate in therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy
- Get enough rest at night, usually 7-9 hours
- Incorporate movement into your routine
- Practice mindful meditation
- Accept support from loved ones
While you may never be able to take away the traumatic experience you suffered, you can effectively manage your symptoms and return to normal functioning. Unfortunately, many people don’t get the help they need. Untreated trauma is very dangerous and can lead to mental health disorders, thoughts of suicide and substance use.
What are the Symptoms of Untreated Trauma?
Whether you suffered abuse, neglect or a natural disaster, the stress of the experience can cause long-lasting changes in the brain. Many people assume they’ll get better over time, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes people need professional support.
Signs of untreated trauma are:
- Anxiety or depression
- Panic attacks
- Anger or irritability
- Substance abuse
Why Do People Who Have Suffered Trauma Abuse Drugs or Alcohol?
When trauma is left untreated, the emotional symptoms will continue until the trauma is dealt with in therapy and emotional support groups. Because many people are either unaware or unsure of how to treat their symptoms, they turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their symptoms, something called self-medicating.
Self-medication refers to the misuse of drugs or alcohol in an attempt to manage the symptoms of a medical condition, including mental illness. People self-medicate because they feel more in control of their symptoms. If a person is anxious around others, they might drink to loosen up. If they are depressed or experiencing flashbacks, they may get high to numb their feelings.
Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol do nothing to improve past trauma. Instead, they create more problems for a person who is already vulnerable such as addiction, additional mental health disorders and exacerbated symptoms of trauma. Overall, falling on substances to treat past trauma leads to worse outcomes.
How to Treat Childhood Trauma and Substance Abuse
Rest assured that it is possible to effectively treat childhood trauma and substance abuse. Usually, these two problems can be addressed at the same time in dual diagnosis IOP in Phoenix. As you progress through the program, you can step down to outpatient treatment which requires less time in therapy.
Combined treatment is an excellent option for individuals who have had a difficult past and are using drugs or alcohol to cope. You can maintain much of your normal routine while getting invaluable support throughout the week. Also, you can apply what you’re learning in therapy right away.
For the best outcomes, be sure to choose a drug rehab in Phoenix that offers the following:
- Professionals who specialize in substance abuse and mental health treatment
- Individual therapy sessions each week to work on key issues
- Group therapy sessions to learn from others
- Access to medications to treat mental illness
- Family therapy that allows all household members to be involved
Continuum Recovery Center frequently addresses childhood trauma and substance abuse in our clients. Many of the people we help are working through past trauma and learning how to manage their symptoms without drugs or alcohol. To learn more about our treatment options and how we can help heal your brain, contact our admissions department today.