One of the most prevalent issues we see among behavioral health patients is trauma. During Domestic Violence Month in October, we’re reminded of the complicated relationship between interpersonal violence, SUD (Substance Use Disorders), and trauma.
As humans, we often experience a stressful or life-threatening event as an emotional shock. The response to such a deeply distressing or disturbing incident can be trauma — and it overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope. Trauma causes feelings of helplessness. It diminishes our sense of self and our ability to feel a full range of emotions and experiences. In fact, traumatic events often produce lifelong changes in our emotions, thoughts, and our body’s stress response.
One in four American children and adolescents experiences at least one potentially traumatic event before the age of 16 — often as a result of domestic violence, parental abuse or neglect in the home. Negative experiences in foster care can add to the exisiting trauma. Additional trauma from school failure or expulsion can follow.
Studies have found that people with trauma can have high rates of lifetime dependence on various substances. In the National Survey of Adolescents, teens who experienced physical or sexual abuse were three times more likely to report past or current substance use than those without a history of trauma. In surveys of adolescents receiving treatment for SUD, more than 70% had a history of trauma exposure.
We know that traumatized youth tend to use alcohol and drugs as a coping tool to relieve anxiety or depression. Continuing substance use can put them in unsafe places with unsafe companions – adding to the risk for domestic/interpersonal violence and more trauma. This pattern may continue into adulthood – evolving into a lifetime of negative, traumatic events, including violence, abuse, arrest, incareration, and/or homelessness.
For traumatized youth and adults with substance use disorders (SUD), getting into behavioral health treatment is only a first step. This is no time for fragmented care – the many layers of trauma, mental health issues, and violence exposure must also be addressed as part of SUD treatment.
Take this chance to learn more: SUD and Trauma