Trauma is an emotional response to an event or situation where individuals felt under attack or feared for their lives. There are two types of traumatic scenarios; big ‘T’ and little ‘T’ trauma.
Big ‘T’ trauma could be encountered due to a serious accident, war, natural disasters, sexual violence, serious injury, or life-threatening experiences. Meanwhile, little ‘t’ trauma are distressing events that negatively affect people but don’t fall under the big “T” category. Examples could include emotional abuse, chronic illness, non-life-threatening injuries, bullying, or the loss of a loved one.
Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Immediately after a traumatic event, a person may experience extreme shock, panic, anger, or denial. These reactions are expected and are essential to our evolutionary survival response to protect us from future threats.
However, people living with PTSD continue to experience a range of long-term adverse reactions which are detrimental to their well-being and everyday life. It is estimated that 20% will develop PTSD.
PTSD has long been associated with war veterans. However, recent research has shown that PTSD can develop after any manner of traumatic experience. Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) is a subtype of the disorder that occurs due to repeated chronic traumatic experiences such as abuse in the home or witnessing abuse.
Although anyone can develop PTSD, it is understood that some are more at risk than others. The associated risk factors fall into three categories:
- Pre-trauma factors - These include gender, race/ethnicity, age, education, prior mental health issues, attachment style, personality type, and genetic and neurobiological factors.
- Peri-trauma factors - These include the severity or duration of the traumatic event, the fear of death, physical injury, and the perception that the event has ended.
- Post-trauma factors - These include access to treatment services, resources, and support networks, as well as financial issues, disability, and poor physical or mental health.
People living with PTSD struggle to differentiate between the past and present. This sees them haunted by their traumatic experiences. Associations with the event, such as memories, certain people or places, and smells or sounds, can trigger the individual to return to the past trauma. As a result, any corresponding feelings will powerfully re-emerge.
The symptoms of PTSD and C-PTSD vary in intensity and can change over time. Some people experience chronic severe issues that impact their everyday lives, while others may have periods where the symptoms disappear altogether. Some may only occur when facing stress, difficulty, or as a result of triggers.
Symptoms of PTSD can include:
- Unpredictable emotions
- Panic attacks
- Strained relationships
- Guilt and shame
- Physical symptoms, such as fatigue, chronic pain, headaches, or nausea.
While these feelings are typical, they make it difficult for the person to live a fulfilling life in the present day.
Trauma and Substance Use
Traumatic events, particularly childhood events, are closely linked to substance use disorders (SUD).
Studies have evidenced that those who suffered from physical or sexual abuse as a child were three times more likely to develop a SUD than those without a history of trauma. A survey of teenagers engaged in SUD treatment found that over 70% had experienced past trauma.
In addition, further research shows that all forms of trauma have a solid correlation to substance abuse. Studies of adolescents receiving addiction treatment demonstrate that over 70% cite histories of trauma exposure. Teenagers who have been sexually abused or assaulted are also three times more likely to abuse substances than their peers. Hence, trauma, particularly early in life, is an apparent risk factor for addiction.
In the wake of trauma, sufferers find themselves in states of intense hyper-vigilance with the body's fight or flight system in perpetual activation. This state of stress, along with the symptoms of PTSD, causes an individual to experience high levels of emotional distress and physical discomfort. To cope with the symptoms of trauma, people will find coping mechanisms to alleviate the pain. Unfortunately, these coping mechanisms are harmful such as drugs or alcohol.
Our focus on dual diagnosis and co-occurring disorder treatment allows us to provide our clients with the support needed to recover from trauma. It also provides the opportunity for our clients to heal from SUD.