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Analyzing the Link Between Substance Use and Trauma Among Adolescents and Young Adults

Home|Analyzing the Link Between Substance Use and Trauma Among Adolescents and Young Adults
Published On: June 29th, 2021Categories: Spectrum Corrections, Treatment & Recovery

Trauma and its connection with substance use disorder (SUD) is an important aspect to consider in the treatment of addiction.

Understanding Trauma

Our recent Airing Addiction podcast explored this topic in depth when hosts Cathy Collins and Lisa Blanchard sat down with Zlatina Kostova, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist who specializes in psychological research and treatment for childhood trauma. Dr. Kostova has spent a lot of time exploring different types of trauma and the use of trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy in treating them. Trauma can be linked to a real or perceived experience within the life of a person or child.

According to Dr. Kostova, there are two types of trauma:

  • Interpersonal Trauma – physical, sexual, or emotional trauma that happened to you or someone you know
  • Non-Interpersonal Trauma – recent accident, war, external accident that happened to you or someone you know

Traumatic stress is associated with increased chemical stressors in the brain and can have a lasting effect on certain areas of cognitive development. The compounded impact on the brain from both trauma and substance use can reinforce the cycle of addiction and negatively impact treatment response. Substances like drugs and alcohol increase a person’s chemical stressors, providing a temporary escape from difficult emotions. These brain alterations may be linked to a dangerous cycle of addiction, particularly opioid use disorder (OUD) or other SUDs in the future.

According to research conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, there is a higher chance of someone developing a SUD in their adulthood if they experience sexual abuse (22%), have grown up with a family member with a mental illness (19%) or have grown up with a person who is actively using substances (24%).

Finding Treatment

So, can we say there is in indeed a defined link between substance use disorder and trauma? Clearly, we can see the negative effects trauma has on an individual and the cognitive response that evokes lasting psychological reactions. This often leads a person to use alcohol or other substances as a coping mechanism – a short-term easing of trauma symptoms which can turn into a long-term addiction.

There is an extremely high rate of individuals seeking treatment for addiction in this country, many of whom have also experienced some sort of trauma throughout their life. An estimated 80% of people in substance use treatment either have a history of trauma or are currently experiencing trauma symptoms. This is why we practice trauma-informed care at Spectrum Health Systems and regularly provide trainings on this topic for our clinicians. We want to create a safe space where individuals are free to discuss their traumatic experiences and receive the support needed to begin their recovery process.

If you or a loved one is struggling with past or present trauma or substance use, call Spectrum Health Systems today at 1-877-MyRehab to speak with a member of our admissions team.


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