Treating Trauma as a Co-Occurring Disorder

trauma co-occurring disorder

The link between trauma and addiction is no secret – since the 1970s, addiction specialists and treatment professionals alike have been closely studying the relationship between early trauma and the development of substance abuse disorders. However, the crucial role that emotional trauma plays in the occurrence of addictive disorders is often overlooked. We at Next Chapter Treatment work to treat trauma as a co-occurring disorder, treating traumatic experience of all kinds thoroughly and extensively – for we understand that if trauma is left untreated, the chances of recovering from addiction are slim to none.

Trauma and Addiction

Numerous studies have confirmed what we at Next Chapter have long-since understood – that a history of childhood abuse or neglect is exceedingly common amongst those undergoing treatment for drug addiction or alcoholism. A study published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research in 2012 suggested that not only was early abuse linked to exceedingly higher rates of alcoholism, but also to a higher overall risk of anxiety disorders, depression, and attempted suicide. Members of the general population have about an 8.4 percent rate of physical abuse, while those afflicted with substance abuse disorders have an average abuse rate of 24 percent (amongst men) and 33 percent (amongst women). As far as sexual abuse goes, the rate amongst members of the general population consistently hovers at around 6 percent, while amongst men with addictive disorders, it rings in at around 12 percent – and amongst women, a staggering 49 percent.

Childhood Trauma and Addictive Disorders

Unlike physical and sexual abuse, childhood abuse frequently goes unreported – especially when it is emotional in nature. Much of the emotional trauma trauma that occurs during childhood is not easy to pinpoint. Trauma can stem from unintentional emotional neglect, as well as a slew of other painful or fear-provoking experiences, such as a significant life change, bullying, or growing up in an addicted or unstable home environment. Trauma is highly subjective, meaning that what plays the biggest role is the innate sensitivity of the individual and his or her internal beliefs – not necessarily whether or not an external source (such a therapist or family member) deems the experience traumatic. For example, one child may handle the divorce of his parents in stride. He may look at the end of their marriage from a rational perspective, and remain essentially unaffected. A different child may be harshly negatively affected by the divorce of his parents, internalizing their separation as a result of his bad behavior – essentially blaming himself.

One specific study conducted on the lasting results of childhood trauma took a close look at children who attended school near Ground Zero. The study found that those children who had experienced more trauma-related factors (such as fearing for their own safety or personally knowing someone who died) were far more likely to begin abusing drugs or alcohol later on in life. This link was far from subtle – it was found that children who has three or more exposure factors were 19 times more inclined to abuse chemical substance. However, drug and alcohol addiction is not the only adverse affect of childhood trauma – far from it. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, which is based on data collected from more than 17,000 young Kaiser Permanente patients, found that unfavorable childhood experiences such as domestic abuse, neglect, abandonment, the loss of a parent, or having a mentally ill or addicted parent, were directly correlated to numerous types of addiction. For example, a child with four or more adverse experiences is 60 percent more likely to become obese, and 46 percent more likely to become an intravenous drug user.

Children and Early Development

Because young children are still neurologically developing, and because they lack a concrete frame of reference, traumatic experiences that occur during childhood can be especially damaging. Children rely on their families for support and nurturing, and when the family unit is partially or collectively unavailable to provide such, the child is left to emotionally fend for him or herself. As a result, children will adapt to dysfunction – become accustomed to having their needs met in unhealthy ways (or not met at all). In many cases, the trauma survivor will begin to self-medicate in order to numb out feelings of pain, powerlessness, fear, anxiety, loneliness, and depression. Abusing drugs and alcohol may allow survivors to temporarily disconnect from uncomfortable emotions while increasing feelings of control and relaxation. Additionally, connecting with other drug users or heavy drinkers may allow the addict or alcoholic to feel a part of something – he or she may utilize these relationships to replicate the absent family unit to some degree.

No matter what the purpose chemical use initially serves, the afflicted individual will often experience the progressive nature of addiction, leaving him or her in desperate need of professional treatment. For those individuals who have suffered significant childhood trauma, attending an inpatient treatment center that treats trauma as a co-occurring disorder will prove to be vital. We at Next Chapter work to deliver integrated, comprehensive treatment, geared towards uncovering, addressing, and thoroughly treating all unresolved trauma – the root cause of many cases of addiction. For more information on our unique and renowned program of trauma and substance abuse treatment, please feel free to contact us today.