Addiction and Trauma Interface

By Ernest / Jul 27th, 2022

The Interface between Addiction and Trauma Response

The goal of this blog is to define addiction and trauma to allow you to have access to applying the terms to your present experience. It is not meant to be technically accurate, but it is experientially appropriate and, we hope, accessible and useful to you. 

Addiction is any desire that is attached to an action that limits one’s freedom. This definition includes behavioral addictions that are seemingly benign. For example, a person who has OCD is tied to the behavior of touching a doorknob 6 times before feeling release or relief. The person is compelled to do this and finds great discomfort in doing otherwise. The action has now anchored the person to “have to” behave this way. So, it is with the person who has a loved one with substance abuse disorder and has a fixed way of responding. “I must do what will make or compel this person to stop” …” I must not do what will make this person want to use/drink”. In this way addiction without boundaries expands into family/friend systems or any series of connections people make. 

Trauma is defined as an experience that occurs outside the limits of a person’s ability to cope effectively. With this definition, we can start to see how trauma response is often trauma making. The person who deals with trauma ineffectively (due to lack of support or other lack of emotional regulation skills) tends to use coping mechanisms that keep them relatively safe in the moment but actually cause more trauma if continued when the first trauma is no longer happening at the rate or intensity it was first experienced. For example, I have experienced my loved one overdosing after an argument. It was traumatic as the person almost died. Now every time an argument comes up the trauma response screams to the person to disengage with the argument, even if it is part of healthy communication around a topic of disagreement.

Addressing addiction and trauma would involve “boundaries” and “productive confronting”, which are the very key to healing the play between addiction and trauma. When one can recognize where they end and their loved one begins as far as responsibility, they begin to get emotional clarity on what they should act upon or not. Likewise, the freedom to confront begins to change the way our body is linked to previous trauma responses and adds new neural pathways after each changed behavior/response. Both approaches help one be in the present (confrontation) and clearly see what is in the present (boundaries) to reform the human system and heal itself. 

This, of course, is not an extensive look at the two and their interface but it is suggestive of how attention to self and courage to change results in a new system, even if the person of concern does not change. What is fascinating is how this stance of boundaries and healthy confrontation, although not its aim, consequentially can allow for the person of concern more opportunities to want to change. And this in itself is an active agent to heal human systems comprised of families, friends, and even a work environment. H2H utilizes the thrust and activity of ARISE Invitational Intervention which relies on these factors among others to heal family systems. 

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