Trauma symptoms are often the reasons people cannot have a comfortable sobriety. They are also the reason many people begin to use substances in a problematic way. Many people have lost touch with the traumatic event(s) that set into motion their addictions or other compulsive behaviors. Often, during abstinence, however, these issues become more apparent.
There are many issues that appear to be affecting your life that may actually be trauma. For example, depression is a common condition that many people with unresolved trauma have. Symptoms that only appear to be depression are actually the numbing of emotions that happens in a traumatic reaction. Sleep disturbances and distressful thoughts can appear to be symptoms of a Depressive Disorder, too, when they actually are trauma-based. Anxiety is another issue that often masks a deeper traumatic reaction. Trauma issues involve a great deal of stress and anxiety, of course, however some people with PTSD or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, can be misdiagnosed with an anxiety disorder that does not account for the trauma they have experienced. Other conditions that are misdiagnosed include ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and ADHD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Difficulty concentrating and being still are symptoms of a trauma reaction, too. One cannot focus and often has physical agitation when dealing with trauma.
Self-medication is tempting when one is trying to cope with ongoing distressful symptoms. It is also common among people who have unresolved trauma issues. The symptoms of trauma are distressing enough to cause many people to attempt sedation. Some of these symptoms include feelings of intense anxiety, being ‘on edge’, unable to relax or sleep and having distressful memories, thoughts and feelings. Substances with sedating effects can seem like a logical choice when attempting to soothe one’s self and rest. Alcohol, for example, is commonly abused by people with these types of symptoms. Some traumatized people can feel an opposite discomfort in which they feel shut down, flat, lifeless and numb. It is not unusual for these people to choose more stimulating substances for self-medication such as cocaine.
Self-medication is problematic because one becomes dependent upon substances to cope which is a cardinal characteristic of addiction. Also, over the long run, substance use increases one’s distressful symptoms and masks them so that the underlying trauma often goes undiagnosed and consequntly, untreated. It is common for people who enter treatment with both an addiction and a trauma reaction to have to be detoxed and abstinent for a while until the trauma symptoms become obvious to healthcare providers.