The Connection Between Trauma & Addiction Recovery

In the United States, about 50% of adults will experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. A traumatic event is an experience that causes extreme stress, such as a natural disaster, serious injury, or sexual assault.

People who have experienced traumatic events face an increased risk of numerous health problems, including drug addiction (also called substance use disorder). 

Trauma & Addiction 

After you experience a traumatic event, you may develop a variety of unpleasant symptoms, including:

  • shock
  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • depression
  • confusion
  • shame
  • feelings of numbness
  • trouble concentrating
  • insomnia (trouble sleeping)
  • nightmares
  • jumpiness
  • fatigue
  • isolation
  • aches and pains

These symptoms sometimes linger for months or even years. In that case, you may be diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental illness that makes it difficult to move past a traumatic event. 


Many trauma survivors try to self-medicate their symptoms with drugs or alcohol. They often choose drugs based on the specific symptoms they experience. 

For example, people who experience anxiety and insomnia may abuse central nervous system depressants, such as alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines. That’s because these drugs can make you feel calm and relaxed.

Similarly, people who experience numbness and fatigue may abuse stimulants like cocaine, meth, and prescription ADHD medications. These drugs can make you feel energized and excited.

While drug abuse may temporarily ease the effects of trauma, it poses a high risk of drug addiction. 

Signs Of Drug Addiction

The most common symptoms of drug addiction include:

  • an inability to control your drug use despite negative consequences, such as damaged relationships or financial issues
  • frequent drug cravings
  • mood swings
  • loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • tolerance (needing increasingly larger or more frequent amounts of a drug to feel the desired effects)
  • physical dependence (experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as shaking or sweating, when you don’t use drugs)

Trauma & Addiction Recovery

Like many other diseases, addiction is treatable. However, if you have past trauma, you’ll require specialized types of treatment. In particular, you should attend a dual diagnosis program that offers trauma-informed care. 

Dual Diagnosis Programs

A dual diagnosis program is a type of addiction treatment program that addresses substance abuse alongside co-occurring mental health concerns, including trauma and PTSD. 

Some dual diagnosis programs are inpatient (which means you live at the treatment center), while others are outpatient (which means you live at home and regularly visit the treatment center). 

Many trauma survivors start with inpatient treatment and then transition to outpatient treatment. Talk to your health care provider to determine which option is best for you. 

When you enter a dual diagnosis program, a team of clinicians will work with you to design a personalized treatment plan. Common treatments used in dual diagnosis programs include:

Medical Detox

When you’re physically dependent on a drug, treatment usually starts with medical detox. During detox, doctors will monitor your physical and mental health as you stop using drugs. They might also give you medications to reduce certain withdrawal symptoms.  

Medication-Assisted Treatment

If you’re addicted to alcohol, opioids, or nicotine, your treatment plan may include medication-assisted treatment (MAT). During MAT, doctors will prescribe medications to ease cravings and withdrawal symptoms. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is one of the most popular types of therapy for both addiction and trauma. During CBT, a mental health professional will help you change unhealthy beliefs and behaviors regarding your trauma and addiction. 

For example, you might worry that your trauma was your fault or that you’ll never recover from addiction. Your therapist can help you identify these thoughts as untrue. When you ignore these types of thoughts, you’ll find it much easier to recover. 

Support Groups

In a support group, you can discuss your challenges with other people recovering from addiction and trauma. You can also learn helpful coping skills from other group members and develop lasting friendships. 


Some trauma survivors benefit from medications prescribed by a psychiatrist, such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and sleep aids. These medications can help you cope with your trauma symptoms as you recover from addiction. 

Wellness Activities

To recover from trauma, addiction, or any other mental health condition, it’s important to prioritize activities that boost your overall well-being. That’s why most dual diagnosis programs encourage people to engage in activities such as:

  • exercise
  • yoga
  • mindfulness meditation
  • deep breathing
  • journaling
  • arts and crafts

Your treatment team can also help you develop healthy eating and sleeping habits. 

Trauma-Informed Care

When searching for a dual diagnosis program for yourself or a loved one, make sure it offers trauma-informed care. This type of care focuses on how traumatic events contributed to your drug addiction. 

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), trauma-informed care operates under six key principles:

  • Safety
  • Trustworthiness And Transparency
  • Peer Support
  • Collaboration And Mutuality
  • Empowerment, Voice, And Choice
  • Cultural, Historical, And Gender Issues

These principles help ensure that the person receives compassionate, holistic care. It also reduces the risk of retraumatization and relapse. 

To learn more about trauma and addiction recovery, please contact Northeast Addictions Treatment Center. Our substance abuse treatment programs offer comprehensive, personalized services to help you stay healthy and sober. 


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Coping with a Traumatic Event

National Institute of Mental Health — Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — SAMHSA’s

Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach

Written by
Northeast Addition Editorial Team

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This page does not provide medical advice.