5 Myths About Trauma and Addiction

myths about trauma and addiction

Trauma and addiction are strongly linked with one another. When you experience something traumatic, you experience emotional reactions that can be difficult to cope with. For example, feelings of exhaustion, confusion, sadness, anxiety, numbness, confusion, and dissociation are all common reactions to trauma. 

If you do not have the proper coping mechanisms to deal with the trauma you experienced, you will likely begin seeking out forms of self-medication. One of the most common ways that trauma survivors self-medicate their emotions is through the use of drugs and alcohol. According to a study published by the National Library of Medicine, “In surveys of adolescents receiving treatment for substance abuse, more than 70% of patients had a history of trauma exposure.”[1]

Trauma is more common than you may think. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, one out of every four people experiences a traumatic event before the age of sixteen.[2] With such a large number of children growing up with the emotional scars of unresolved trauma, there is an increased chance that they will turn to alcohol or drugs to cope. 

Unfortunately, there are stigmas and myths surrounding trauma and addiction that prevent people from seeking the help they need. 

Understanding the 5 Myths About Trauma and Addiction

Trauma is the number one leading cause of addiction, as most individuals who suffer from a substance use disorder have a history of unresolved trauma. If you have dealt with alcohol or drug use problems, you can probably identify at least one or two traumatic experiences that occurred in your past. Unfortunately, many people believe common myths regarding trauma and addiction that can make it harder for you to accept the help you need. 

5 common myths about trauma and addiction include:

Myth #1: “Time Heals All Wounds”

If you have ever dealt with something that caused you emotional damage, you have probably heard someone say “time heals all wounds.” People believe that over time, your trauma will stop affecting you as much as it did in the beginning. While this would be convenient, the truth is that burying your trauma will only cause it to fester over time, leading to worse emotional damage than before. 

Rather than allowing time to go on without resolving your trauma, you must work through it. In fact, believing that time will heal your wounds can lead to self-medicating behaviors, beginning the cycle of addiction. Instead, trauma therapy can help you unpack and overcome the emotions attached to the traumatic events you have experienced. 

Myth #2: “The Trauma Must Be Physical or Sexual Abuse to Cause Addiction”

Unfortunately, people like to perpetuate the stigma that for an event to be traumatic, it must be something terrible, like physical or sexual abuse. While these types of traumatic experiences are awful to go through, no type of trauma is worse than the other. People react differently to distressing situations, and while you may be able to handle one type of trauma, another person may be unable to cope. 

With that being said, any distressing event that causes emotional damage is considered trauma. Additionally, any type of trauma can lead to an inability to cope healthily. This means that whatever kind of trauma you have endured could lead to addiction if it is left unresolved.

Myth #3: “Addiction is Caused by a Fail in Morality, Rather Than Trauma” 

There is a stigma about addiction, where people believe that it is a failing in morality rather than something caused by past emotional damages and an inability to cope properly. Additionally, many people perpetuate the idea that having unresolved trauma makes you “weak,” and you should just “get over it.” Instead, it is most common for addiction to be caused by underlying instances of traumatic experiences–not a weakness or moral failing

If you experience trauma as a child and do not receive professional treatment, the emotional damage it caused will be buried deep within your psyche. As you grow older, your behaviors will be influenced by the underlying trauma, causing you to struggle with daily tasks, self-soothing emotions, and having healthy relationships with others. The way that trauma affects you when it is left untreated can lead to substance abuse and addiction. 

Because of this, the only way to fully recover from addiction is to address and heal from the traumas you have experienced in the past.

Myth #4: “Traumatic Events Must Have Occurred Exactly the Way You Remember It”

Many people believe that traumatic events must have occurred exactly the way you remember them. However, it is extremely common for people who have experienced trauma to forget or mix up some of the details. This is due to the distressing nature of the event causing memory lapses. 

In any case, the details of your trauma are not as important as the feelings attached to the events that transpired. For example, two siblings who grew up in the same household could have completely different memories of what it was like growing up. One sibling could remember a loving and peaceful childhood, while the other could remember constant fighting, verbal abuse, and emotional manipulation. Whether or not the trauma actually occurred is not what matters, it is more important for the perceived trauma to be addressed and treated.

Myth #5: “Trauma Only Leads to Addiction in Weak-Minded People”

Lastly, some people perpetuate the stigma that trauma only leads to addiction in people with “weak minds.” They think that allowing an event to control your life to that extent makes you less strong than them. However, this is far from the truth. 

According to research published by the National Library of Medicine, experiencing a traumatic event can do real damage to areas of your brain, like the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and hippocampus.[3] In other words, your brain is affected by trauma on a chemical level, meaning however strong you are, you are at risk of experiencing emotional reactions, stress responses, and impulse control issues. This is why integrated treatment for trauma and addiction is so important.

Finding Help for Trauma and Addiction

If you or a loved one have suffered from trauma and turned to drugs or alcohol to cope, dual diagnosis treatment is a must. Leaving your trauma unresolved can lead to worsened emotional issues, poor mental health, and heightened problems with substance abuse. The only way to truly recover from addiction is to heal from your past traumas. Healing from those distressing events can free your mind up to learn how to cope with emotions healthily, removing your need for substances. 

Moving Mountains Recovery Center can help you uncover and heal from the traumatic experiences you have dealt with in the past using an emotionally-focused approach to recovery. Don’t wait any longer for the help you need and deserve. Call now to get started.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3051362/
  2. https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/programs_campaigns/childrens_mental_health/what-is-child-traumatic-stress.pdf
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181836/

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