Stress-Related/Trauma-Related Disorders And Addiction

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on July 5, 2021

Trauma and stress are both risk factors for developing a drug or alcohol use disorder. People who have a history of trauma who develop substance use issues may benefit from a dual diagnosis treatment program.

Co-Occurring Stress/Trauma-Related Disorders And Addiction

Experiencing some form of trauma is common. According to some estimates, up to 60 percent of people experience some type of traumatic event in their lifetime.

For a portion of the population, this can lead to the development of a trauma or stress-related disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or a reactive-attachment disorder.

Substance abuse and addiction is common in people with a history of high stress and trauma and can worsen these conditions over time. For treatment, dual diagnosis is highly recommended.

Learn more about co-occurring addiction and mental health disorders

What Are Common Forms Of Trauma?

Trauma can be physical, emotional, or psychological. Psychological and emotional trauma is the basis for diagnosing a stress-related or trauma-related disorder.

Examples of trauma can include:

  • childhood neglect
  • sexual abuse or sexual assault
  • violence
  • motor vehicle accidents
  • surviving a deadly incident
  • losing a loved one at a young age
  • wartime combat
  • interpersonal violence (i.e. partner abuse)

Any experience that affects a person cognitively, emotionally, or psychologically and is perceived as threatening to a person’s well-being can be considered a form of trauma.

What Are Trauma And Stress-Related Disorders?

Not everyone who experiences trauma develops a trauma-related disorder. This is a severe response to trauma that can affect children, teenagers, and adults.

Trauma and stress-related disorders include:

Stress, a term associated with trauma, is defined as any type of change that causes emotional, physical, or psychological strain on a person. This is a known risk factor for substance abuse.

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The Connection Between Stress, Trauma, And Addiction

Both stress and trauma are significant risk factors for the development of a drug or alcohol use disorder, which can be influenced by environmental, genetic, and personal factors.

This means that people with a stress or trauma-related disorder are more likely than those without to develop issues with substance use.

Generally, a stress or trauma-related disorder precedes a person’s substance abuse. People with substance abuse issues can also be more likely to experience traumatic events.

Addiction And Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that can develop in response to one or more traumatic events. This can cause long-term, trauma-related symptoms.

This disorder is especially common among wartime veterans, and survivors of abuse, assault, and childhood neglect. People with this disorder are at heightened risk for drug and alcohol abuse.

People with PTSD may use drugs or alcohol to numb, distract from, or reduce symptoms of their disorder, although this may worsen symptoms over time.

Addiction And Acute Stress Disorder

Acute stress disorder is similar to PTSD, with the difference that it’s short-term. This refers to an immediate response to trauma that can last from three days up to one month.

People with acute stress disorder may lean on alcohol or drugs after a traumatic or stressful event to help them cope in the absence of trauma-focused counseling or other support services.

This can lead to a dangerous pattern of using substances to stifle rather than process through difficult emotions and triggers.

Addiction And Adjustment Disorder

An adjustment disorder is a behavioral or emotional reaction to change that can overwhelm a person’s ability to cope.

People with this disorder may turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, leaning on them to self-medicate anxiety, cope with stress, or find a sense of calmness.

Addiction And Reactive-Attachment Disorders

Reactive-attachment disorders are rare conditions typically diagnosed in children. This can occur if a child is unable to form healthy attachments with their parents or a caregiver.

The social and emotional effects of this disorder can make it difficult for children to form meaningful relationships in childhood and later on in adulthood if left untreated.

For people with this disorder, substance use may become a form of self-medication, emotional regulation, stress management, or be used to replace relationships.

Can Drug Abuse Cause Stress-Related Disorders?

Drug and alcohol abuse can affect the brain in ways that can lead to increased anxiety, depression, and poor stress responses.

Although drug abuse can’t cause a stress-related disorder, it has been linked to a greater likelihood of experiencing a traumatic event and can worsen symptoms of a trauma condition.

Rates Of Trauma-Related Conditions And Addiction

Substance abuse and addiction has a known link to stress-related disorders and trauma-related disorders.

What research shows:

  • People with PTSD are two to four times more likely to develop a substance use disorder compared to the general population.
  • About 50 percent of people who seek treatment for substance abuse have PTSD.
  • People with a substance use disorder may be more likely to develop a trauma-related disorder like PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event.
  • According to one study, among people who sought treatment for adjustment disorder, between 59 to 76 percent had a substance use disorder diagnosis by the time of their discharge.
  • People with insecure attachment styles are at a higher risk of developing substance use disorders compared to people with secure attachment styles.

Treatment For Co-Occurring Trauma And Substance Abuse

The most effective way to treat co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders is by treating all disorders at once through a trauma-informed, integrated treatment program.

Dual diagnosis rehab is a leading example of this type of treatment. Dual diagnosis treatment incorporates both substance use and mental health services to provide comprehensive support.

Dual diagnosis treatment for trauma may involve:

Trauma-informed rehab is guided by principles of safety, transparency, empowerment, and collaboration. This can be highly beneficial within the healing process to support recovery.

Finding Dual Diagnosis Treatment For Trauma And Substance Abuse

If you’re searching for addiction treatment for yourself or a loved one with a history of trauma, we can help you find what you’re looking for.

We can help you find:

  • inpatient dual diagnosis rehab
  • outpatient dual diagnosis rehab
  • medical detoxification
  • dual diagnosis counseling

Call our helpline today to learn more about dual diagnosis and to find a treatment program that’s right for you.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on July 5, 2021
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