Around 75% of people will experience trauma during their lifetime. Trauma is even more common among people affected by addiction.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is an event or series of circumstances that can have lasting effects on a person’s mental, physical and social wellbeing.
Trauma can be caused by humans (e.g. war, child abuse, sexual assault) or nature-related (e.g. bushfires, floods).
How is Trauma Experienced?
People are unique and everyone will have a different response to trauma.
In most people reactions to trauma start soon after a traumatic event has occurred. For others, these feelings may not emerge until months or years after.
In people who are vulnerable, trauma can be very troubling and cause longer impacts.
Reactions to Trauma
Emotional and mental reactions include:
- Feeling sad, anxious, irritable, fearful, guilty or angry.
- Having intrusive memories of the trauma or nightmares about what happened.
- Feeling as if the trauma is happening again, or 're-living' of your experience.
- Difficulty concentrating and remembering things.
- Avoiding thinking about the trauma, or reminders of it. Having a negative view of yourself and the world.
Physical reactions include:
- Feeling on edge, startled and vigilant.
- Experiencing sweating or racing heartbeat when reminded of the trauma.
Social reactions include:
- Becoming withdrawn or distant from others.
- Avoidance of activities or places that remind you of the trauma.
- Being less able to function in usual roles (e.g. at work, at home).
The Relationship between Trauma and Addiction
Some people may turn to alcohol or other drug use, or gambling, to cope after experiencing trauma. People who use alcohol and other drugs can also be at an elevated risk of trauma, through victimisation or accidental traumatic injury.
However, addiction interferes with how we process trauma:
While alcohol, drug use and gambling can seem to provide short-term relief, addiction can add stress and make things worse.
- Alcohol and other drug use can affect a person’s ability to manage a traumatic event and its aftermath.
- People often find that reducing or stopping alcohol or other drug use heightens their reactions to trauma.
When to Get Help
Not everyone who experiences trauma will need help. For some people, reactions will settle a month or so after the trauma has occurred.
For others, symptoms may continue or get worse. In these instances, seeking help is recommended to get you connected to valuable assistance and support.
What Kind of Help is Available?
Psychological therapies can support you to develop strategies to manage feared situations or distressing memories, and recover.
Medications (e.g. antidepressants) can also help reduce some trauma symptoms.
There are also effective treatments to help people manage addiction (e.g. counselling, support groups, detox and rehab programs).
Tips to Stay Well – If You Have Experienced Trauma
Be kind to yourself, and recognise that you have experienced trauma and are allowed to experience some reaction to it. Monitor how you are feeling, and make sure you eat well and get regular exercise.
Take time to rest and relax
Reduce stress and anxiety by doing healthy activities that help you to relax. This might include going for a walk, listening to music, or trying controlled breathing or mindfulness if you are familiar with these techniques.
Avoid or limit use of alcohol and other drugs
It is recommended that healthy adults drink no more than 10 standard drinks of alcohol per week (including no more than four standard drinks in any one sitting). Also avoid using multiple or high doses of drugs, and risky drug taking behaviour (e.g. injecting drug use). Take regular breaks from alcohol and other drugs, and consider getting help to cope with cravings and urges to use if your addiction is getting out of control.
Everyone needs support, especially when the going gets tough. Share your experiences with people you trust and reach out to one of the many services available to help you get through this.
Where to Get Help
Talking to your doctor is a great place to start, as they can provide you with more information and a referral to an appropriate health professional. Talking with trusted friends or family members can also be helpful, as they can support you through your recovery and assist you to make decisions and link with services.
National services you can self-refer to for free help and support include:
- National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service: 1800 737 732
- Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service: 1800 011 046
- Kids Helpline (5-25 year olds): 1800 551 800
- Lifeline: 13 11 14
- Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
- National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline: 1800 250 015
- National Gambling Helpline: 1800 858 858