Trauma, Addiction, and Dual Diagnosis

Trauma can mean something different to everyone, but the common denominator is the debilitating effect it can have on the mind and body. The psychological aftermath of a traumatic event can lead to a breakdown in self-esteem, emotional stability and the ability to cope with stressful situations.

These effects can cause a person to turn to self-medication and can ultimately lead to addiction if not dealt with properly. The first step in addressing the roots of trauma-induced addiction is understanding the symptoms and what treatments options are available.


Trauma can result from a sudden, intense event, such as being the victim of a crime or surviving an accident, or a series of events, such as continued abuse. Some people may recover quickly from a traumatic event while others struggle to cope. Those who struggle to recover from a traumatic experience may exhibit signs of traumatic stress:

·       Vivid recollections of the event

·       Sleep issues

·       Feelings of loneliness and depression

·       Intense bouts of anger

These responses to trauma are quite common and can negatively impact a person’s ability to function in society. Feelings of desperation, anxiety or fear may lead a person suffering from these symptoms to experiment with drugs or alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate.

Those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more likely to develop an alcohol addiction than other types of addiction. This reliance on alcohol may be a reaction to the feelings of helplessness that accompany PTSD. However, self-medication in this way can create more problems, including triggering the onset of mental illness or worsening an existing mental condition.


Trauma can facilitate the development of an addiction as well as other psychiatric conditions such as PTSD. This interaction between two disorders is called comorbidity, known clinically as a dual diagnosis. Dual diagnosis is the recognition of an addiction and a mental disorder occurring simultaneously. Diagnosing comorbidity requires taking a broad view of a patient’s mental health. Those who receive treatment for substance abuse should undergo testing for the presence of mental illnesses.

In cases of comorbidity, a dual diagnosis is a critical component of treatment. If only one of the disorders is recognized and treated, the other may continue unchecked, undermining the effectiveness of therapy and decreasing the likelihood of maintaining long-term sobriety. However, if both disorders are recognized and addressed, the client has a better opportunity for recovery.


Once the addiction and psychiatric disorders have been identified, treatment of both illnesses can begin. There are multiple avenues of therapy for both addictions and psychiatric illnesses, including medications and behavioral therapy.

The first step to recovery for those suffering from addiction is detoxification. While this can be a difficult process, there are medications that can manage withdrawal symptoms. After detox, there are a host of medications available that may be utilized to treat both substance use and mental disorders.

In addition to medication, behavioral therapy is an important part of the recovery process. Both addiction and psychiatric disorders can be treated with therapy by diagnosing the source of trauma and the negative effects which followed. Once those have been identified, the client may begin building new, better habits.


Experiencing a tragedy can send ripples through a person’s life, and that trauma may lead to addiction and mental illness. Fortunately, treatment is available to deal with both in ways that will allow you to live a full, vibrant life.

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