Esposearch Logo

Trauma and Addiction: Complex Treatment


Addiction is a compound issue that needs to be examined from different aspects. However, there is a lack of emphasis on the evidence that trauma and addiction are similar in terms of effects on neurochemistry. This illustrates that not addressing certain traumatic events may negatively influence people with substance abuse disorder due to the correlation between the two concepts. Moreover, the treatment of addiction-related issues may be compromised without the inclusion of mitigation of prior impacts of trauma. Since evidence shows that the two notions are interconnected, addiction treatment should involve specific trauma therapy which incorporates resilience or spirituality for some individuals.


Philological trauma is a relatively new term that has been incorporated long after individuals were experiencing traumatic events that were influencing their lives on many different levels. Currently, the general population views trauma as a consequence of such impacts as military service, car accidents, and childhood abuse. However, as the realm of phycology is constantly improving and becoming more informative, the general population is less likely to judge people based on their self-destructive behaviors. The reason for this is the overall understanding that addiction is more of a symptom rather than the entire issue.

Historical Overview

The views of addiction are also less narrow-minded than they used to be. An example is the term “shell shock,” used to describe people who were not able to mentally recover from the stress experienced during World Word Ⅰ. Now that the term is considered a derogatory description of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the views on mental health have changed. While certain connotations of addiction are derived from historical facts (alcohol use in ancient Rome and Greece and opium in 18th century China), more modern views are much more specific. For example, many individuals imagine homeless people drinking out of brown paper bags as the truthful faces of addiction. An even more innovative overview includes middle-class mothers abusing painkillers through prescriptions.

Historical Healthcare Overview

Trauma has been stigmatized for a long time due to a lack of adequate information and proper treatment strategies. The most prominent historical issue that reflects how traumatic experiences and their effect on one’s mental health has been addressed is the stigma around such a diagnosis. Doctors did not have the information and resources on how to deal with such patients. This misunderstood issue has resulted in centuries of improper care, isolating individuals from society, and performing inefficient treatment measures. Moreover, they were viewed through a lens of discrimination and deception by the rest of the population.

Gaps in Research

As mentioned before, historical data illustrates how lack of research and information leads to improper care. However, there is not enough reliable information in terms of resilience and recovery after particular measures are implemented. Such an informational gap makes it difficult to incorporate effective strategies that would help mitigate the effects of trauma. Moreover, the inability to quantify existing data regarding positive or negative implications of specific treatment significantly affects the overall domain of quality healthcare and mental health awareness.

Neurochemical Effects of Addiction and Trauma

Researchers found evidence that trauma and addiction have similar neurochemical effects. Fisher (2000) points out that both trauma and addiction activate the “survival” mechanism in the brain. In case of substance abuse, the patient seeks self-medication to ease the pain. The same behavior is observed in individuals with PTSD and other trauma-related conditions. This illustrated how a damaging event and the subsequent self-medication are interconnected on a neurochemical level.

Another similarity between the two is illustrated in the fact that both addiction and trauma have specific effects on the brain that are permanent. Moreover, Fowler (2006) refers to the long-term effect that continues even after the patient addresses issues related to this topic. The evidence shows that both traumatic and experiences and substance abuse are not to be viewed separately. Self-medicating patients with prior trauma need a complex solution that takes into consideration both the cause and the symptom.

Addressing Trauma During Addiction Treatment

As argued before, trauma and addiction are interconnected, which means that they should be addressed within the same recovery treatment. Researchers point out that patients dealing with substance abuse are more likely to have ineffective treatment if they experience stress (Russo & Ford, 2006). Moreover, since traumatic events cause individuals to have difficulty coping with stressful situations, addiction programs become less proficient. This causes patients to relapse or have an overall negative overview of the recovery.

On the opposite, patients who receive the necessary skills to cope with stress are more likely to be successful with their addiction programs. According to researchers, if specialists help their patients by giving them a tool to mitigate stress and anxiety related to trauma, there is a greater chance for better outcomes (Ackley, 2019). This proves that recovery programs would benefit from having a more in-depth approach in linking addiction and its cause before combating some of the psychological barriers, fears, and other trauma-related symptoms.

Resilience and Spirituality

Both resilience and spirituality are two of the concepts that are often addressed during recovery programs. While these two aspects are hard to measure or objectively assess, researchers found that resilience correlates with overall positive outcomes in terms of recovery (Peres, 2017). Since resilience is the skill of dealing with difficulties and overcoming obstacles, patients find it easier to go through treatment and experience a sense of empowerment from having the right tools to address their situation.

Spirituality is another subjective concept that is personal for each individual. Yet, people who choose religion or any belief in a higher power as an addition to their recovery program find it beneficial. A research examined patients with addiction problems who have reported spirituality as one of the concepts that helped them mitigate the prior issue with substance abuse (Koenig, 2009). These individuals have stated that religion has motivated them and contributed to their well-being during the challenging path of fighting with addiction. This suggests that multiple people benefit from believing in a higher power while taking the journey of getting clean from alcohol or drugs, with the exception of people with severe mental health conditions, delusions, etc.


While specialists often choose to separate trauma and addiction, evidence shows that these two issues need to be addressed simultaneously for a more efficient recovery. Historically, both these concepts have been stigmatized and perceived through stereotypical views. There is not enough research to this day, yet specific experts point out that trauma and addiction have the same neurochemical effects. This is exemplified by the brain’s survival mode and the overall long-term or permanent effects that are observed in patients in both cases. Moreover, recovery is more efficient if both substance use and traumatic experiences are addressed together. Other additional factors that may facilitate recovery are resilience and spirituality. However, such subjective measures are hard to objectively assess and scientifically prove. Individuals with severe mental health issues are less likely to see positive effects by being resilient or believing in a higher power. It is certain that patients will have better outcomes if specialists consider trauma and addiction a symbiotic and complex human response to a negative experience rather than two separate notions.


Ackley, C. (2019) The brain chemistry of addiction and trauma: Intricate links. [Video]. Vimeo.

Fisher, J. (2000). Addictions and trauma recovery. International Society for the Study of Dissociation.

Ford, J. D., & Russo, E. (2006). Trauma-focused, present-centered, emotional self-regulation approach to integrated treatment for post-traumatic stress and addiction: Trauma adaptive recovery group education and therapy (TARGET). American journal of psychotherapy, 60(4), 335-355.

Fowler, J. (2006). Psychoneurobiology of co-occurring trauma and addictions. Journal of Chemical Dependency Treatment, 8(2), 129-152.

Koenig, H. G. (2009). Research on religion, spirituality, and mental health: A review. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 54(5), 283-291. Web.

Peres, J. F., Moreira-Almeida, A., Nasello, A. G., & Koenig, H. G. (2007). Spirituality and resilience in trauma victims. Journal of religion and health, 46(3), 343-350. Web.


About the author

we will assist you 24/7

Quick Contact

Keep current with the ESPOSEARCH Blog. Let’s get it written!

EspoSearch Ⓒ 2022 - All Rights Are Reserved