The Link between Addiction and Childhood Trauma in Women

Link Addiction TraumaContributed by Jenni Prange Boran

It’s challenging enough to wake up and face each day under the thumb of a debilitating substance dependency. Not uncommonly, if you are facing this issue, you are likely also dealing with the added stress of the ongoing effects of having experienced a childhood trauma. As it turns out, it’s no coincidence that the two issues are so often linked.

According to the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), women are more likely to experience symptoms of PTSD than men. The symptoms range from hyper-arousal and re-experiencing the trauma to avoidance and self-medication, or numbing.

This is where the addiction often comes in. Studies show that childhood trauma is a contributing factor in dependence on substances as an adult, as these substances are often turned to for false comfort as a means of coping with deeper emotions that can be tough to confront.

Several types of experiences can trigger this cycle.

Types of Childhood Trauma that Result in PTSD

  • Emotional abuse, neglect
  • Physical abuse, including sexual abuse
  • Witnessing a traumatic event
  • Self-blame for a traumatic event

These types of trauma and the resulting PTSD are not unusual issues in dual diagnosis with substance abuse. In fact, a history of being abused drastically increases the likelihood that a woman will abuse alcohol and other drugs, according to a 2008 article in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.

The article references one of the first studies on addicted women and trauma, which found that:

  • 74% of the addicted women reported sexual abuse
  • 52% reported physical abuse
  • 72% reported emotional abuse

“Moreover, the addicted women were found to have been abused sexually, physically, and emotionally by more perpetrators, more frequently, and for longer periods of time than their non‑addicted counterparts,” according to the article.

Treating Addiction and Trauma in Women

Finding a treatment center that understands the far-reaching importance of dual diagnosis and has the resources to follow through with a comprehensive program to deal with underlying issues, as well as physical addiction, can be more than an emotional necessity. Childhood trauma and the resulting substance dependency can become a ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg’ situation.

While a traumatic experience or series of experiences as a child can lead to an addiction as a means of dealing with unwelcome emotions and memories, there is a flip side to that coin. Abuse of a substance can put you in any number of compromising situations, as these substances that numb the pain also tend to lower inhibitions and affect the ability to practice good judgment, opening the door for further trauma.

Addiction and trauma, whether PTSD or otherwise, can and should be simultaneously addressed with the help of a dual diagnosis treatment center. A center can help identify the origin of the trauma and deal with it in concurrence with the issue of addiction, as both issues will have to be addressed in order to successfully resolve either one. Doing so will also reduce the risk of a trauma-based relapse.

Tags: addiction, dual diagnosis, ptsd, trauma, women

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