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The Connection of Trauma and Addiction

Joyful woman with wind blowing through hair

I've recently learned that there is a connection between trauma and addiction. The trauma can be from childhood or from anytime thereafter. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has been a hot topic with regards to veterans. One third of veterans seeking treatment for substance abuse also have PTSD.

Our personal story deals with childhood trauma occurring in the first years of life. Often children adopted from other countries have endured some form of trauma. Our son, although not from a foreign country, suffered from trauma before we adopted him. More of this story in my upcoming book will be out around October.

PTSD is defined as a psychological disorder generated by either witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. PTSD patients may also experience numbing, or periods of feeling emotionless or emotionally "flat." We saw this behavior in our son but didn't realize at the time its significance.

Brain research suggest that trauma, or the chemical processes set into motion by trauma, might actually damage and shrink parts of the brain. Understanding how trauma affect the brain is vital to proper treatment.

Addiction is defined as a pleasurable behavior that transforms into excessive use that interferes with daily life. The short-lived pleasure helps relieve negative emotion that can stem from trauma.

When one is dealing with the psychological issues of trauma and the physical issues of addiction, it is considered a dual-diagnosis. Treatment must address the issues in a more holistic manner. According to one study, there is no one "gold standard" for treating this dual-diagnosis (, "Treatment of Co-occurring Postraumatic Stress Disorder and Substance Use Disorders, by Erin C. Berenz and Scott F. Coffey). In concluding their research, they mention the importance that more research is needed in this area. Finding an experienced therapist is difficult. PTSD is diminished once the patient is sober along with assistance from prescribed medication.

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a form of psychotherapy in which the person being treated is asked to recall distressing images while generating one type of bilateral sensory input, such as side-to-side eye movements or hand tapping. This therapy is not without controversy with contradictory findings and researcher bias found in some studies.

Common sense tells me that treating the addiction while shedding light in a controlled fashion on the experienced trauma is the best approach. Although the trauma was real, the resulting anxiety can be treated in a variety of ways, from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to changing your belief system.

This is a complex problem, but I will leave you today with this positive thought, "I am clothed with strength and dignity and I laugh out loud without fear of the future." (Proverbs 31:25) I use this as a prayer for my loved one as well as a general thought for my own strengthening.

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