Trauma and addiction – the never ending merry-go-round. Is there a way to get off this ride?

For some of us, wounds run deep. Others can’t physically see our wounds and they don’t physically bleed, but deep down, they have cut us up and are very hurtful.

Some people form addictions as a coping mechanism…

There’s many things we canmindful_psyc_new become addicted to: drugs, alcohol, prescription pills, business, work, shopping, food, gambling and even sex. You name it, you can become addicted to it. And there are some weird addictions I’ve heard about – Google them!

In order to treat addiction, we first need to understand it. As Gabor Mate says from ‘In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts’, “It is impossible to understand addiction without asking what relief the addict finds, or hopes to find, in the drug or the addictive behaviour”.

And addiction can run in families. Genetic vulnerability can be passed down through generations. But this shouldn’t be passed off as the main reason for an addiction.

Addiction serves a purpose to reduce or numb pain

For a short time, this works! But then the real pain returns and brings with it more problems that are associated with the addiction itself. These include financial and relationship strain, problems at work, or health issues. Pain and addiction are a feedback loop – one reinforces the other. And the cycle continues…

This pain can be caused by many life circumstances: divorce, death of a loved one, or loss of job. There is often pain from childhood that gets carried into adulthood which fuels the pain. This usually includes abuse and neglect. Many people with addictions have had an extraordinarily difficult life.

The suffering that comes from trauma can be extremely intense

Many trauma survivors self-medicate to alleviate suffering, flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, and unexplained illness, with substances such as alcohol or drugs. It helps the symptoms to fade for a short time. But as your body builds tolerance, and both your mind and body become addicted, greater amounts of the substance are needed to feel ‘ok’.

It isn’t long until symptoms become worse and lives become unmanageable. And this is how the roundabout of trauma and addiction continues.

Trauma activates the survival ‘flight or fight’ reaction

When you become traumatised, you’ll naturally call out for help. If no one responds, your next option is fight or flight! Or sometimes, you may simply freeze in your tracks with adrenaline pumping and your heart racing.

The way you react to the trauma will stay with you long after the event. When your memory is triggered, you’ll access the place where your memory is stored and experience the same physiological response – you feel helpless and unsafe, your heart races, and images, smells and sensations flood your senses. So for many people, drugs and alcohol are strategies that they have found that stop these feelings.

When trauma occurs in childhood…

It is super important that parents, friends or guardians take the appropriate actions to ensure that the child gains the best professional help available. Despite whether you think they’re ‘ok’, it’s best to let them speak to a professional in a safe and comfortable environment. Parents often downplay the trauma their child may have suffered due to their own embarrassment. Don’t let your child suffer and seek the appropriate help for them.

For a child, trauma could be anything from bathroom accidents at home or in school, or for being picked on for something that amuses the entire class at school. It doesn’t have to be a huge life event.

Do not let trauma have the chance to ferment, it should never be taken lightly.

So how do you get off the addiction/trauma merry-go-round?

The only feasible way to jump off the merry-go-round safely is to treat both the trauma and the addiction at the same time. You need to understand the cause – the relationship between the trauma and the addiction. Seek therapy from a professional, especially one who is highly experienced in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

And then learn to have some compassion on yourself. Rather than placing hatred, shame or judgment on yourself, be kind and compassionate.

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