How Trauma and Drug Addiction are Linked

Part of the complete guide to understanding addiction

Table of Contents
  1. Childhood trauma and Addiction
  2. What us a co-occurring disorder?
  3. Integrated drug rehab and mental health treatment
  4. Addiction and trauma recovery model
  5. Statistics linking trauma and addiction
  6. Consider Drug Rehab for Dual Diagnosis

Childhood trauma and addiction

Trauma experienced as a child can impact an individual’s life for years to come. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE) found that the link between childhood trauma and high-risk behaviors that lead to chronic illness and premature death is significant.

As research continues to grow in the area of addiction rehab, a focus on childhood trauma and addiction has become a focus. The circumstances and experiences a child undergo shapes their psychological development. Therefore, while genetics and biology play a major role in the brain’s development and addiction, the adaptation response of the brain impact the structure in both positive and negative ways.

Contact us or call now!
1- 888-683-0333
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • By submitting this form. I am providing express written consent to contact me by SMS at the phone number provided.

One study in particular showed how childhood abuse may be attributed to certain anomalies in the structure of the brain linked to cognitive, behavioral and social impairments.  These physiological changes to the brain are clearly seen on neurological scans connected to vulnerability to substance abuse disorders.

What is a Co-occurring Disorder?

When beginning addiction rehab treatment, it is important to understand the likelihood and complexity of what a co-occurring disorder is and its impact. A co-occurring disorder, or dual disorder, is the occurrence of a substance use disorder along with a mental health disorder. These mental health disorders are generally categorized into three groups: mood-related disorders, anxiety-related disorders, or severe mental illness. 


Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common co-occurring disorder along with other dual diagnosis. It is an example of an anxiety-related disorder. Those with this diagnosis are three times more likely to have a substance abuse disorder. PTSD is the result of a traumatic experiences in a person’s life and 8 out of 100 Americans will have this diagnosis.


Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is another co-occurring disorder often found with substance abuse. It is an anxiety disorder brought on by unreasonable fear and anxiety as a result of repeated thoughts. It is characterized by compulsive activities and repetitive actions like arranging belongings or continually washing hands. Roughly one-quarter of people with OCD have a dual diagnosis of substance abuse. The earlier OCD symptoms develop, the more likely the individual will become addicted to a substance later in life.

Bipolar Disorder:

This mental health condition is a depression related disorder. It is also referred to as “manic depression.” This condition causes intense mood swings leading to emotional highs and lows. While genetics and chemical imbalances can cause bipolar disorder, traumatic life events are also a risk factor. It is not uncommon for those with a bipolar disorder to attempt self-medication through drugs or alcohol. There is also the possibility of substance-induced bipolar disorder coming from frequent drug use causing changes in the brain.


This condition is categorized as a severe mental illness where the individual is unable to differentiate between reality and imaginary. This condition has a genetic and chemical component. Environmental factors may also play a role in its development. Roughly 50 percent of those with a schizophrenia diagnosis have some history of substance abuse. This is yet another way of self-medicating for these individuals in an effort to relieve anxiety and depression.

Integrated Drug Treatment and Mental Health Treatment

Unresolved trauma is a major contributing factor to substance abuse. It is reported that two-thirds of adult addicts have experienced some form of traumatic experience as a child, whether physical or sexual.  Success in alcohol and drug rehab treatment is founded on addressing the underlying root causes of ongoing substance abuse.

In the past , it was common for the two to be treated separately,

Once the evidence that trauma and addiction are deeply connected became widely known, understanding how to treat trauma and addiction simultaneously became a priority. Trauma-focused drug rehab treatment spread and many drug treatment centers created programs to address both issues at the same time.

in both inpatient rehab and outpatient rehab programming, clients suffering from co-occurring disorders will leann coping tools and mechanisms with various addiction and mental health therapy modalities. These include grief or loss counseling, peer support groups, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), desensitization work (exposure therapy), pharmacotherapy, holistic practices, and coping skill development. An individual may use all or just some of these as part of their multi-faceted substance abuse treatment program. At Avenues Recovery, once a client successfully undergoes detox from drinking or drugs, a personalized treatment plan is created to address any issues contributing to that specific battle with drug addiction. This gives the client the best chance to turn his or her incoming stint at inpatient and outpatient addiction rehab into lasting recovery.

Addiction and Trauma Recovery Integration Model

The Addiction and Trauma Recovery Integration Model (ATRIUM) is a recovery model that can be used by groups or individuals alongside their mental health professional of choice. It is a 12-session recovery model used in a wide variety of settings. The goal is to bring together all resources and professionals available to provide support and help for trauma and healing. Resources used in the ATRIUM model include peer support, psychoeducation, interpersonal skills training, creative expression, meditation, spirituality, and community action.


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends 6 key principles:

  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness and Transparency
  3. Peer Support
  4. Collaboration and Mutuality
  5. Empowerment, Voice, and Choice,
  6. Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues

Statistics Linking Trauma and Addiction

Trauma and addiction statistics show staggering and eye-opening risk factors associated with co-occurring disorders developing. The ACE study showed that every occurrence of adversity or trauma, the likelihood of substance abuse increased two to four times. Along those same lines, those with five or more were seven to ten times more likely to be addicted to drugs.

The connection between substance abuse and trauma occurs across a wide range of populations, genders, traumas, and type of substance abuse. 75 percent of men and women in substance abuse treatment centers reported history of trauma or abuse. Studies also show that 75 percent of teens addicted to a substance developed the addiction post trauma exposure.

One-quarter to three-quarters of individuals who have experienced violent traumatic experiences also have concerning rates of alcohol use. Accidents and illnesses can in both childhood and adulthood are trauma events proven to lead to alcoholism.

Sexual abuse and child molestation are heavily connected to eventual drug dependence and addiction. Adolescents that have been sexually assaulted are 4.5 times more likely have an alcohol abuse disorder.

Considering Drug Rehab for Dual Diagnosis

Those who have experienced childhood traumas or traumas as an adult should consider trauma informed drug rehab treatment. Anyone living with mental health conditions as a result of trauma, along with substance abuse disorder have effective treatment options available to them. There is no time at which it is too late to seek out professional help or a drug treatment center to address substance abuse disorder and concurring mental illness.

Get help now

Call 24/7 888-683-0333

Enter your information below and one of our outreach coordinators will contact you immediately.

  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • By submitting this form. I am providing express written consent to contact me by SMS at the phone number provided.

I'm standing by
ready to help you

Brooke Abner,

Motivational Coach