The link between trauma and addiction has become increasingly evident in recent years. Traumatic events might occur at home, school, work, or war zones. No matter where they take place, they can have a devastating impact on physical and mental health. Our trauma and addiction treatment in New Jersey combines evidence-based therapies and specialized care to address the complex interplay between trauma and addiction.

Trauma isn’t just everpresent, it’s something that’s sometimes rooted in past events and people who didn’t learn healthy coping mechanisms are particularly at risk of developing trauma-induced substance abuse problems.

If you’re one of the many people affected by the link between trauma and addiction, understanding and contending with your traumatic experience is an essential part of the recovery process. Treatment that addresses the traumatic event can help resolve the emotional dysregulation that occurs when someone experiences physical abuse, emotional abuse or adult or childhood sexual abuse.

Many people who struggle with the effects of childhood trauma also develop mental health disorders. For example, it’s common to see a dual diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with substance use disorder. Recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction requires attention to the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

If traumatic events and substance abuse prevent you from living the life you deserve, Recovery at the Crossroads can help

Call us today at 888-342-3881 to start your journey.

The Connection Between Trauma and Addiction

It’s important to note that trauma is subjective. Not everyone who has traumatic experiences goes on to develop mental health problems and substance abuse disorders. Likewise, not all substance abusers have experienced trauma. What’s more, an event that’s deemed traumatic by one person might not be perceived as such by another.

Counselor helping soldier concept image for our trauma and addiction treatment in New Jersey

Trauma and addiction have a complicated relationship. Some people who experience childhood trauma or adult trauma start self-medicating with alcohol and other drugs to cope with stressful situations and numb their feelings. This creates a vicious cycle because drug use exacerbates emotion dysregulation, which can compound the mental health issues caused by trauma and disrupt an individual’s well-being.

It’s also important to understand the physical symptoms related to trauma. When someone has a traumatic experience, the body triggers the fight-or-flight response. Over time, stress responses overwhelm the nervous system, placing the brain in a constant state of anxiety.

What Role Does Trauma Play in Addiction?

We know that people with adverse childhood experiences have a higher risk of addiction as adults. Although scientists aren’t exactly sure why this occurs, many theorize that disrupted attachment creates a clear connection between trauma and addiction. A child with abusive or emotionally harmful parents or caregivers doesn’t develop secure, comfortable, warm feelings from strong attachment. Instead, they unconsciously look for endorphins in other ways, including drug abuse, alcohol and other addictions (shopping, sex or gambling, for example). Kids in this situation experience lasting effects because of a lack of endorphins, the brain hormone that produces these feel-good emotions.

Young lady with underlying mental health conditions concept image for outpatient treatment services

Why Treating Trauma & Addiction Recovery Go Hand-in-Hand

Coping with unresolved trauma from childhood or young adulthood can positively affect your physical and mental adult health. Recovery programs that use a trauma-focused approach to addiction recovery help you understand how you’re affected by the underlying trauma of adverse childhood experiences. Addiction services and trauma treatment are intricately connected because trauma can serve as a significant trigger for addictive behaviors.

Many people aren’t aware of how their actions, emotions and behaviors develop as a result of child abuse, neglect and adverse experiences. Some of the impacts on your mental health and bodily functions include:

  • Chronic stress
  • Lack of self-esteem and self-worth
  • Uncontrolled aggression and anger, can make it challenging to maintain healthy relationships.
  • Feelings of being unwanted and unloved
  • The need to escape your current circumstances

Therapy with a professional addiction and trauma counselor offers a safe, effective way to address past and childhood traumas. You’ll begin to understand how trauma histories affect our lives in the present. You’ll also learn how to cope with your trauma history without the self-medication provided by drugs and personal alcohol abuse.

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What Types of Trauma Lead to Addiction?

Type One Trauma

Type one trauma is caused by a one-off event that happens suddenly, without warning. It’s also known as shock, acute trauma or BIG T trauma and is most closely tied to PTSD symptoms and diagnosis. Some causes of type one trauma could include: 

  • Severe injury or illness
  • Sexual assault
  • Violent assault
  • Traumatic loss
  • Robbery or mugging
  • Witnessing violent assault
  • Witnessing natural disaster
  • Witnessing a terrorist incident
  • Road traffic accident
  • Military incident
  • Hospitalization
  • Medical trauma
  • Childbirth
  • Post-suicide attempt trauma

Type Two Trauma

Type two trauma, also known as complex trauma, occurs because of repeated traumatic experiences over a prolonged period. In many instances, the perpetrator is someone very close to the victim who’s in a position to make them feel trapped, powerless and unworthy. Instances of type two trauma could include: 

  • Childhood abuse: sexual, physical or emotional
  • Childhood neglect
  • Sibling abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Coercive control
  • Abandonment
  • Bullying
  • Overly strict upbringing
PTSD on young women concept image for trauma informed care

Collective Traumatic Events

Historical, intergenerational or collective trauma occurs among marginalized communities and those who’ve experienced horrific treatment. Examples of collective trauma include families and communities affected by terrorist attacks, regions devastated by natural disasters like fire and flood, and racial and ethnic minority groups who experience daily racial aggression.

Instances of collective trauma include:

  • War
  • Genocide
  • Removal from a community or family
  • Racism
  • Slavery 

Childhood Trauma

Many people who require substance abuse treatment were exposed to ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) when they were young. Evidence suggests that unresolved traumatic experiences in childhood are closely tied to drug and alcohol abuse and other addictive behaviors and unfavorable outcomes.

One study published in the Journal Addictive Behaviors associated adverse childhood experiences with various negative health outcomes, especially among people with four or more ACEs. The researchers found that people who experienced traumatic events such as violent crime or child abuse have a higher lifetime risk of substance abuse and mental health issues, including anxiety and mood disorders. Most people in the study developed a mood disorder such as depression or an anxiety disorder approximately 3 years before the first time they received a substance use disorder diagnosis.

Young child with counselor during trauma therapy

ACEs appear to contribute additively to the risk of SD, with mood and anxiety disorders in the causal path for a portion of this risk. Identifying and effectively treating mood and anxiety disorders associated with ACEs could reduce the risk of developing SD.

The 10 ACEs Tied to Childhood trauma are:


  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect

Household dysfunction:

  • Mental illness
  • A relative in prison
  • Mother treated violently
  • Substance abuse
  • Divorce

PTSD and Addiction

Co-occurring PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and substance use disorder exist among roughly 40% of civilians and veterans, which is a shockingly high figure. Current Psychiatry Reports found that people with this dual diagnosis require complicated treatment that typically includes a combination of medication, therapy and sometimes exposure-based treatments. The researchers theorized that treating PTSD and substance abuse simultaneously improves recovery outcomes.

Young man suffering from PTSD showing trauma symptoms

PTSD Symptoms

It’s estimated that 8% of people who experience trauma develop PTSD. The main PTSD symptoms include:

  • Reexperiencing: flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts and physical responses such as sweating, shaking and feeling sick
  • Avoidance and emotional numbing
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Sleep disorders
  • Problems concentrating
  • Depression, anxiety and phobias
  • Self-harm

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment in New Jersey

If you think an adverse childhood experience or adult trauma is causing you to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, Recovery at the Crossroads, the leading alcohol and drug rehab in New Jersey can help. RAC provides treatment options to residents in Washington Township, Camden, Woodbury, Cherry Hill, and all the surrounding areas. We’re experts in dual diagnosis and treatment of co-occurring substance use disorder and mental illness. Call 888-342-3881 to start recovering today.