Does Trauma Cause Addiction?

trauma addiction cause

Most physical wounds heal with time – the human body is an incredible thing. We put a cast around a broken bone and it fuses back together; we stitch up a cut and the skin closes, leaving naught but a small scar in its wake. Emotional wounds, on the other hand, do not always heal so readily. It is often said that, “Time heals all wounds,” but when it comes to deep emotional and mental damage, the human psyche may require quite a bit more than time. Experiencing trauma can change our entire perspective on life. When trauma goes unresolved, it can greatly hinder our ability to function at full capacity; we may avoid interpersonal relationships, struggle to find meaning and fulfillment in life, and adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms to help us make it through each day. Many individuals who undergo severe traumatic events will eventually turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of self-medication. Trauma sufferers do not intend on developing chemical dependencies; but the two often go hand-in-hand.

Trauma and Addiction

There are many differing types of trauma. Sexual abuse. Rape. Physical abuse. Neglect. Abandonment. Bullying. Natural disasters. Near-death experiences. The loss of a loved one. Events such as these often leave individuals with deep-seated scars; scars that cannot be healed by time alone. Any type of trauma can be just as damaging as the next – what matters more than the actual event is the psychological and emotional state of the individual involved. What is severely damaging to one individual may not even phase another. Two individuals may be involved in the same near-fatal car accident – one may walk away unscathed, and almost immediately return to a state of normal function, and the other may suffer from PTSD for years afterwards. The crucial factor is not the event, therefore, but the way in which the individual perceived it. So, it is fair to say that in some cases, trauma may lead to substance abuse… and eventual chemical dependency. But this is not always the case.

Does Trauma Cause Addiction?

That being said, varying types of trauma may provoke substance abuse in differing ways.

Childhood Abuse

One of the most common underlying causes of substance abuse during adulthood is childhood trauma. The effects of early emotional abuse and neglect often last well into adulthood, affecting many areas of life. Many adults who suffer from unresolved childhood trauma will turn to chemical substances as a means of coping with unaddressed rage, nightmares, flashbacks, and deep-sated insecurities. While substances do work to temporarily relieve symptoms of unresolved trauma, they will often ultimately lead to re-traumatization.

Sexual Abuse

In the majority of instances, sexual abuse is perpetrated by an individual that the victim knows and trusts – such as a family friend, family member, mentor, or acquaintance. Because of this, sexual abuse will often initiate feelings of mistrust, anxiety, and fear. Because many victims mistakenly feel that they played a role in their sexual abuse or assault, many fail to seek help, opting to keep their abuse a secret. Some individuals may often feel too embarrassed or ashamed to seek help. The emotional strain that bearing such a traumatic secret causes frequently leads to self-medication, which may very well evolve into a full-blown substance dependency disorder.


Grief resulting from the loss of a loved one can take a very serious emotional and mental toll on an individual. People deal with grief in complex and varying ways. Some may throw themselves headfirst into their careers, some may fall into a state of deep depression, and some may turn to drugs and alcohol to help temporarily numb the pain. Unfortunately, the abuse of chemical substances will only perpetuate the grieving process – while simultaneously increasing the risk of developing an addictive disorder. In order for grief to be successfully worked through, it must be faced head-on.

Natural Disasters

For some, experiencing a natural disaster (such as an earthquake, flood, or fire) may prove to be extremely traumatizing. Individuals may re-experience the event through nightmares or flashbacks, or they may replay the event over and over in their own minds, contemplating how they could and should have responded differently. The trauma sufferer may attempt to avoid these intrusive and debilitating memories by self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. In many instances, and as previously mentioned, self-medication will eventually lead to addiction.


Witnessing or experiencing a serious accident (such as a car wreck or an injurious accident in the workplace) may leave more than physical scars – such experiences can be deeply emotionally and mentally traumatizing. The mental effects of severe accidents may affect the way individuals function in their day-to-day lives. A lingering sense of helplessness or dread may prevent the individual from partaking in certain activities or completing certain tasks. In many cases, accident survivors will turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of coping with incessant anxiety and mental distress.

Healing from Trauma

Each traumatic experience is unique to the individual, though there are several underlying similarities when it comes to the general feelings aroused by traumatic events.

Most individuals who experience trauma:

  1. Will not have anticipated the event
  2. Will have felt unprepared for the experience
  3. Will have been completely powerless over the events that unfolded
  4. Do not bear any true responsibility for the event

Experiencing a traumatic event of any kind does increase the likelihood of eventual substance dependency, seeing as the lingering emotional and mental effects of untreated trauma weigh so heavily on the human psyche. If you or someone you know and love is suffering from a severe substance dependency issue, it is likely that unresolved trauma of some degree is involved. At Next Chapter, we specialize in treating men who are suffering the long-term mental and emotional symptoms of unresolved trauma. To learn more about our program of recovery, please feel free to contact us today.