Psychological trauma often occurs in those who have experienced significant damage to their psyche. This may take place because a patient has lived through a particularly stressful event or situation. This kind of trauma can occur any time a person is faced with stress that exceeds their ability to cope with the respective stress. Because of this, trauma and its consequences are highly subjective.
Victims of psychological trauma typically experience long-term and serious consequences of their trauma, resulting in PTSD in many cases, and they often cannot work through their own trauma unless guided by a professional.
Many of the signs and symptoms of psychological trauma are the same as the signs and symptoms of many other types of psychiatric illnesses and mental disturbances. It is possible that a mental health professional might overlook psychological trauma as a possible factor when attempting to diagnosis a patient’s condition. Because of this, it is important that a patient or loved one be made as self-aware as possible of the particular circumstances from a patient’s past. This kind of information can play a key role in obtaining accurate, appropriate, and truly therapeutic treatment as quickly and effectively as possible.
Some common causes of psychological trauma include:
- Sexual abuse, which might include rape, other forms of sexual assault, sexual harassment, or sexual misconduct of any other sort
- Harassment, which might include verbal or emotional bullying, sexual harassment, threats and blackmail, or any other sort of ongoing and undermining treatment
- Bullying, which might include emotional, mental, verbal, or physical bullying as well as more subtle peer pressure
- Domestic violence, which might include physical, verbal, mental, or emotional abuse
- Discrimination, which might include gender, race, creed or age discrimination, for example
- Substance abuse, which might include having a parent who is an alcoholic or substance abuse of any sort
- Extreme poverty or lack of access to needed resources for some other reason
- Natural disasters, which might include having been involved in an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, tsunami, mudslide, wildfire, or some other sort of catastrophic natural disaster
- Physical trauma, including a physical assault by a person or animal
- Participation in military combat
- Childbirth-related trauma, which can occur when a labor takes a painful or unexpected turn and might involve a baby being stillborn or in trouble at the time of birth, an emergency C-section, excruciating pain, and actions taken during labor that a patient did not consent to
- Pregnancy trauma, which can include a painful pregnancy or the termination of a pregnancy via miscarriage, stillbirth or abortion
- Public humiliation, which can occur in many areas of life and for an array of reasons
- Career collapse, which can be especially traumatizing for those who have invested much of their lives into their career
- Death, which can include the death of a loved one, especially if sudden and unexpected
Who Experiences Psychological Trauma?
Psychological trauma can occur in anyone, no matter their age, race or gender, or regardless of any other identifiable factors.Certain factors, however, might mitigate the damage psychological trauma can have on a person. People who come from stable families, for instance, might be more able to process traumatic events whereas certain conditions seen in children might be indicative of the development of PTSD later in life. Since people who experience psychological trauma come from all backgrounds, and since it can be incredibly difficult for certain people to express their thoughts and feelings regarding their childhood trauma, it’s important that psychological trauma not be ruled out in diagnosis until one can be sure it is not a part of a patient’s history.
Childhood trauma can contribute to the development of trauma-related consequences immediately following the onset of trauma or perhaps much later in life. Experiencing childhood trauma increases the likelihood that a patient will suffer from PTSD, depression and substance abuse. Some of the most common forms of childhood trauma include abuse of all types, witnessing abuse, and witnessing a tragic event.
PTSD, which is caused by psychological trauma, is thought to affect roughly 7.7 million American adults. According to research, women are a bit more likely to experience PTSD than men. Studies also suggest that a predisposition for the development of PTSD can be hereditary. People can even develop PTSD without having actually experienced a traumatic event themselves. The harm or death of others, especially close friends and family members, can be enough to trigger PTSD in some people. By the same token, not everyone who experiences a severely traumatic event will develop psychological trauma or PTSD. How trauma is processed varies depending on the individual.
The Relationship Between Psychological Trauma and Substance Abuse
Many people who have experienced psychological trauma turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism. A variety of substances can make a user feel numbed, empowered, or calm, for instance – all of which are sensations that might be rarely experienced during sobriety for those who have suffered psychological trauma. A person who has had psychological trauma might rely on benzodiazepines so they can feel relief from ongoing anxiety, stimulants so they feel they have the energy and focus to accomplish that which they feel they cannot accomplish without the drugs, opioids so they can experience euphoria that they believe is not available to them in a sober state, psychedelics so they can embark on what they might consider to be a spiritual journey of self-discovery, alcohol so they find it easier to function and communicate in social settings, marijuana so they can allow themselves to feel relaxed, and so on and so forth.
Each victim of psychological trauma has individual needs that they might turn to drugs for, which can open the door toward drug addiction. This reliance on substances can lead to drug addiction in patients of psychological trauma. Before the underlying psychological trauma can effectively be treated, the drug addiction must be identified and treated first.
Some of the symptoms of drug addiction are:
- A need to use a substance regularly
- Failed attempts at stopping the use of a substance
- Financial hardship at the hand of substance use
- Engagement in risky or dangerous behaviors while under the influence of a particular substance
- Engagement in activities that are out of character, like theft, lying, or prostitution in order to obtain the drug
- An avoidance of activities that do not involve the respective substance
- A performance decline in the workplace or at school
- Problems at home or in social circles due to substance use
- Physical appearance that is neglected
- Changes in friends
- Apparent and frequent intoxication
- Sleep disturbances
- Behavior that is secretive and might include lying or sneaking around
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- A general change in behavior and/or mood
Psychological trauma comes with its own signs and symptoms.
Some of the most common ways to recognize psychological trauma include:
- A response to triggers – events that put the patient in the position to relive or remember the trauma in a way that can be uncomfortable or painful
- Panic attacks
- Pointed avoidance of triggers
- A repressed memory of the traumatic event
- Physical and mental exhaustion
- Low self-esteem
- A loss of trust
- Flashbacks and nightmares
- Feelings of guilt and shames
- Periods of dissociation
- Complaints of physical pain or chronic illness
- Disturbances in sleep
- Self-harm, suicidal thoughts, or suicidal behaviors
- Impairment of a person’s ability to function normally in life or carry out necessary tasks
- Substance use or abuse
Causes of Psychological Trauma and Drug Addiction
Substance abuse/drug addiction is often seen in patients who have experienced psychological trauma. Nearly 25 percent of children and adolescents have experienced some sort of trauma. Furthermore, experiencing trauma early in life increases a person’s susceptibility for drug addiction. A person is also more susceptible to drug addiction if they experience any trauma whatsoever, whether early in life or later.
Psychological trauma and drug addiction can occur in any person, regardless of their age, gender, religion, class, or any other factor. However, a person is more likely to experience drug addiction if members of their family are addicted to drugs as addiction like this can be hereditary. Friends who are addicted to drugs can also increase a person’s susceptibility for drug addiction because friends can be highly influential, especially for a person who is already plagued by self-doubt and low self-esteem.
A person might suffer more greatly from psychological trauma if they have demonstrably low levels of cortisol or other abnormalities in the HPA axis, low levels of serotonin, altered levels of dopamine, disturbances in the norepinephrine system, or brain abnormalities in the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus or amygdala.
A dual diagnosis of co-occurring drug addiction and psychological trauma can be challenging. The most effective kind of treatment for this combined condition is care that is specifically designed to target both psychological trauma as well as drug addiction. This kind of treatment might involve psychotherapy and medication. Medication might help treat some of the symptoms of psychological trauma, like panic attacks or depression. Medication might also help to treat drug addiction, depending on the substance or substances the person is addicted to – for instance, methadone might be used for a person who is addicted to heroin.
A treatment plan that is tailored to the individual and utilized daily, or at least with regular frequency, is key to recovery from this dual diagnosis condition.
There is hope out there for those who have undergone serious psychological trauma. Drug addiction, although it might seem to solve immediate problems related to psychological trauma, worsens the trauma in the end. For this reason, it is vital that appropriate treatment be sought immediately. Call us today for more information on how we can help you or your loved one to start a new healthy life in recovery.
Further Reading About Psychological Trauma and Drug Addiction
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David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.