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Throughout most of my life, I had always thought of addiction as a lack of self-control. However, as I got older, life found a way to humble me, after a major trauma lead to a deep addiction, and I am forever thankful for that experience because it opened my eyes to the reality of addiction.

In active addiction, I was surrounded by addicts, and what I found was that behind every addict I met was a deep-rooted trauma they were trying to escape from. Even those that would have never admitted that was the reason behind their addiction, had something going on beyond the surface. Fast forward to now, I have been clean for years. But in my journey of recovery, I have done a lot of research into how addiction and trauma go hand in hand. If you’ve never been addicted, please thank your lucky stars. It’s not a good experience, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. The major thing I am thankful for is that the experience did open my eyes and mind and it humbled me in many, many ways.

In the research I have done, I found 6 ways that trauma is linked to addiction.

1. It’s a form of self-medication.

Oftentimes, a person who later becomes a full-blown addict will begin by using substances as a form of self-medication. To me, this makes a lot of sense, because even as a teen when I dealt with trauma, I would use alcohol to soothe the pain. Later in life, it was easy to dive head first into addiction, because I had already laid out the groundwork with earlier dips into substances after trauma.

2. The link between the two goes both ways.

When we explore the links between trauma and addiction, we often think that trauma always occurs first and then addiction after. However, it’s more like a vicious cycle. Typically trauma does occur first, and then addiction, but the addictive lifestyle in and of itself can be pretty traumatic. Being an addict is a traumatic experience.

3. You must accept the source of your addiction to heal.

When an addict goes into treatment, you cannot just treat their addiction and expect them to heal. This is why most treatment programs involve in-depth therapy and trauma resolution. And this is another reason why the 12-step program works because it’s pretty much a deep dive into finding out what is broken inside of you and working to heal it and keep it healed.

4. Trauma & addiction often become co-morbid with other mental illnesses, making it harder to detect what is the source of the problem.

A lot of times, during active addiction, it can be hard to work on healing any form of underlying mental illness, because addiction on the surface can look like a mental illness. Adding more fuel to the fire is the fact that trauma and addiction do not typically occur alone. There are usually other comorbid (co-existing) mental illnesses that tie into addiction and trauma. Until the addiction is addressed, it can be hard to treat everything else, so treatment is usually a combination approach.

5. Treatment for addiction typically involves treatment for deep-rooted trauma.

During treatment for addiction, therapists and treatment techs typically work to address the trauma beneath the surface, providing patients with groundwork and a set of coping skills to help alleviate the trauma.

6. Trauma-induced addiction typically starts at a young age.

A quarter of American youth has experienced a trauma by the age of 16. One in 5 young people in the U.S. are actively abusing substances and alcohol. Trauma-induced addiction is something that starts at a young age for most.