For most, substance abuse is used to mask something deeper - a way to self-medicate. It is usually possible to look back at your life and locate a stressor, or trauma. Trauma can manifest itself from many things - chronic pain, childhood abuse, loss of a loved one, and sexual abuse. The definition of trauma is a deeply distressing, disturbing experience or physical injury. It can, however, come from anything that meets essential criteria of a traumatic event - it was something you did not anticipate or were unprepared for, you felt powerless in the situation, and it wasn't your fault. When there is the convergence of these things in your life, it can lead you to find coping mechanisms, some healthy, some not so healthy.
1. Chronic Pain: This can come from anything in your life that has caused you pain. Maybe you were in a car accident and hurt your back, perhaps you were injured on the job, or you are diagnosed with a chronic illness. Some people can use opioid pain medication that is prescribed by a physician and could not have an addiction form. Others who are prescribed opioid pain medication develop a dependence on the relief from pain and euphoria it gives them. Causing them to require larger opioid doses over time and take them long after an injury has resolved itself and a physician has advised discontinuing the course of treatment, leading to an unhealthy dependence on opioid medication and various other pharmaceutical drugs.
2. Childhood Abuse: Not everyone's childhood is rosy. Sometimes you can experience either instance of childhood abuse or a more prolonged exposure over the entire course of your childhood. Either of those is no worse than the other. When you are young, things that happen to you can leave scars that take far longer to heal than some wounds you acquire as an adult. Your youth shapes who you become as an adult, for the most part, and if you experience abuse as a child, it could lead to an addiction to drugs or alcohol down the road, as a means to try to "forget" what has happened. Unfortunately, this could also lead to more instances of trauma down the line.
3. Loss of a Loved One: Grief is hard for anyone to handle. You are not alone in this. Losing a family member or close friend can lead to a complex emotional state. A death in your life can cause you to think about your mortality or you could have a hard time coming to terms with the fact that a person you were once close to was here last week but not today. Some symptoms of grief include, but are not limited to, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety disorders and sometimes substance abuse in the form of either alcoholism or prescription drugs as a way to try and numb the pain from the sudden loss. While drinking alcohol after a loss is typical, the other form of addiction from prescription drugs usually comes from medications prescribed by a psychiatrist that you see to help handle the grief in the form of sleeping pills, barbiturates or anti-anxiety meds.
4. Sexual Abuse: This could occur either as an adult or it could be an aspect of the childhood trauma you experienced. Either way, sexual abuse can lead to feelings of betrayal, intimacy issues, and feelings of shame which sometimes cause you not to seek professional help and counseling in favor of self-medication. It is important not to let your perception of guilt or shame influence your need for help. Sexual abuse is not something that can be handled on your own, though you may find that preferable. It takes a professional to help guide you through the steps of recovery and healing. Pinpointing the traumatic event in your life can help you on the path towards healing and recovery from your addiction to alcohol or prescription medications such as opioids and other drugs. It is important to surround yourself with people who will support you on your journey to recovery and to reach out for help. If you or someone you love is suffering from addiction, we encourage you to seek help.
Sydney DeZinnois a writer from Tucson, AZ. A graduate of the University of Arizona, and a strong advocate who is passionate about addiction recovery and helping those in crisis.
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