As unfortunate as it is to come to terms with, most of us have experienced a traumatic event in our lives at one point or another. The world that we live in can be cruel and unforgiving in so many ways. It might seem at times that we have no actual control over the events that take place. And in many circumstances and situations, this is a valid concern. Natural disasters, loss of loved ones, wars, and abuse are genuine and extremely frightening incidents that we must fight through to survive.

While our physical scars might heal without a trace over time. The impressions left on our emotions and state of mind may last much longer than we might even begin to realize. The emotional damage that traumatic events bestow on us often takes a toll. Traumatic baggage can be painful and difficult to fight through. And because of such, we often develop unhealthy habits as coping mechanisms…. These harmful mechanisms for coping and self-preservation can often extend further into chronic cases of abuse or addiction.

What is Trauma?

Trauma, by definition, is described and identified as the adverse emotional manifestation from a traumatic incident, or several incidents, that have occurred throughout an individual’s life. The mental, psychical, and emotional response(s) that occur after a traumatic experience can be instantaneous or even slowly recognized as time continues. Cognitive dissonance, mindful suppression, and actively neglecting our emotions without processing them properly can lead to a plethora of health and mental problems down the line.

One of the most common adverse coping mechanisms following trauma being substance abuse. The pain of trauma is often so severe, many individuals will do almost anything to deflect the emotions they are experiencing and numb the pain. For many people, the pain of trauma is too much to bear, and they seek out heavy options for even temporary escape.

Statistics on Addiction, Trauma, and PTSD

Everyone experiences adverse life events. And some individuals experience far more frequent or severe circumstances than others. While it is no surprise that there is a high prevalence of individuals who have experienced traumatic events over their lifetimes, the number of traumatizing events that occur and the statistics that follow them still remain alarming…

  • An estimated 3.6% of U.S. adults suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the past year.
  • 7-8% of individuals in the U.S. will have PTSD at some point in their lives. And the overall lifetime likelihood of PTSD developing is 6.8%
  • Approximately 10% of women and 4% of men develop PTSD at some point in their lifetime. On average, 5% of adolescents have also met the criteria for PTSD in their lifetime.
  • 4% of people who suffer from PTSD also fit the profile for harboring substance abuse disorders.

What are the Types of Trauma?

There are a variety of instances that can be classified as traumatic events. And there are several types of trauma you can suffer from. There is no scale or measure of judgment that makes one type of trauma less impactful than another. Trauma is real, and so is the immeasurable pain it brings with it. A few instances that can be classified as traumatic events might include; assault, military combat, sexual crimes, and domestic abuse–whether verbal or physical.

While it can be said that most individuals have experienced one or more forms of trauma over their lifetime, it is important to remember everyone comes from a different walk of life. Some people suffer greatly from several forms of high trauma in their lives. Others may deal with the effect of only a “few” traumatizing events. Therefore, it is crucial to treat everyone with kindness. The mental health field recognizes three distinct types of trauma: complex, chronic, and acute trauma.

  • Complex: This trauma is often the result of a series of devastating incidents. While complex trauma is often associated with disturbing childhood-related events, this does not mean complex trauma is exclusive to adolescence trauma. But it is often the byproduct of repeated adverse incidents over time from youth to adulthood. Many who suffer from complex trauma often develop PTSD and are likely to benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy sessions.
  • Chronic: The chronic form of trauma is similar in likeness to that of complex trauma. It is most often recognized by a mix of repeated traumatic incidents. But chronic trauma is also identifiable by the appearance of random traumatic experiences in conjunction with, or separate from, repeated adverse events in an individual’s life.
  • Acute: Acute trauma is often recognized by a singular, terrifying event in an individual’s life. Examples of acute trauma might be a car accident, surviving natural disasters such as a hurricane or tornado, and other major events that are likely to change the course of one’s life.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that can develop after an individual has witnessed or personally experienced a traumatic event or events. The emotional and physical toll of these traumatic events may linger for several weeks or months. The effects of trauma and PTSD may last an entire lifetime if the proper treatment is not pursued.

It is essential that if you find yourself or a loved one suffering from acute stress after a traumatic event for an extended time, that you make a call to a licensed physician to discuss your condition and possible treatment options in the event a post-traumatic stress disorder is considered likely. Stress affects everyone differently. But continuous acute pressure and mental distress can onset the development of other severe health conditions if left untreated.

PTSD and Substance Abuse Treatment

Like substance abuse disorders, the stigma surrounding trauma-related topics and PTSD is slowly fading away as our world becomes more open to talking about hard-hitting discussions and issues regarding mental health awareness. Every discussion is an opportunity to learn more about ourselves, mental health, and how to manage times of difficulty in a healthy manner. Everyone can benefit from learning more about mental wellness and healthy coping skills, not just those suffering from PTSD, substance abuse, or another related condition.

It is essential to recognize that in the case of trauma and co-occurring disorders, healthy coping mechanisms must be put into place. A healthy set of coping mechanisms and a solid support system can assist in the healing processes of millions of individuals. Developing healthy coping skills can help prevent negative responses to situations, events, and circumstances, assisting people in staying grounded when they feel distressed or triggered.

Trauma Coping Mechanisms and Substance Abuse: What Are the Options for Healthy Coping Mechanisms?

After experiencing extreme levels of trauma, the risk of an individual developing unhealthy and damaging coping mechanisms is likely to increase dramatically. Habits such as excessive drinking, drug use, overspending, and other vices often take place as a form of distraction. These types of distractions are simply “band-aid” solutions to third-degree problems. Suppose we find ourselves slowly treading down a dark road or even barreling into the abyss. In that case, we need to recognize the warning signs of impending self-destruction and find a way to reroute ourselves onto the right path.

Once the need for a drastic change is recognized, it becomes easier to move forward and find healthier coping mechanisms when the days get hard. At this stage, one might ask,

“How does one heal from trauma?”

There are many ways to heal from and cope with trauma. Of course, to ensure safety and best principles of practice, it is recommended to work with a therapist or someone you trust to discuss healthy alternatives to coping mechanisms and what strategies might work best for you.

  • Meditation & Breathwork: Often praised for its powerful impact and highly effective strategy for managing elevated levels of stress and anxiety that frequently come hand in hand with working trauma, meditation and breathwork are coping practices you can use anywhere you go. Meditation is the concept of clearing the mind and focusing on specific thoughts while becoming more aware of your body and breathing patterns. Breathwork is literally the management and focuses on mindfully regulating your breathing patterns.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: CBT is a form of psycho-social therapy used to treat advanced cases of trauma and other varied disorders. CBT focuses on helping individuals become aware of their negative thought patterns and potential actions, working on finding ways to change one’s mindset.
  • Learning Healthy Forms of Expression: There is so much we can say without uttering a single word. Utilizing our creativity as a channel or form of release can have a potent effect in a healthy, positive manner. Try considering participating in art or music therapy to tap into your artistic side and relieve thoughts and emotions that you may be suppressing.
  • Volunteer: Do something for others! Contributing positively to someone else’s life can be incredibly impactful. Sometimes the healthiest and most positive distraction is focusing on someone or something other than ourselves. Sharing our kindness with others works to create joy for ourselves and our communities. The trauma you have endured may have been solitary. But healing requires friends and community, and volunteering can help expand that circle of friends even further.
  • Laughter: As a wise man once said, “laughter is truly the best medicine.” Laughter always has and will continue to be a conduit of joy. Laughter is a natural cortisol reducer and aids in the easy release of adrenaline. Look for the tiny things in life that inspire you to smile.
  • Spirituality: Spirituality is not to be confused with religion. Spirituality and religion or not synonymous with each other as they are genuinely not the same. Spirituality is finding peace within yourself. Discovering who you really are, what your belief system is, and seeing what the next step of your journey will be. Once you have found your path, everything else will begin to fall into place.
  • Remastering Your Mindset: All things begin and end in the mind. Learn to master your thoughts and change your internal perspective before leaning towards a downward spiral. If we see only the negative, often our reality becomes the same, working to mirror our cognitive mindset and energy. If we choose to focus on the positive aspects of life, the beneficial circumstances of our existence will increase.

Life can throw many painful experiences onto our path. Whatever may happen in the lives we possess, we all can have the strength inside of us to make it through. Trauma does not need to be the dictator of our lives; we have the power to make changes and fight for our mental, physical health, and overall happiness. A life of peace and freedom from trauma is waiting for you. We just have to fight for it.