Trauma Disorder or Trauma Response?

Did you know that your mental health symptoms might be a response to trauma you’ve experienced in your lifetime? 

The Journal of Mental Health states: 

  • 50 percent of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse.
  • 37 percent of alcohol abusers and 53 percent of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness.
  • Of all people diagnosed as mentally ill, 29 percent abuse alcohol or drugs.

What drives you to pick up and drink or use is likely correlated in some way to an experience of abject mental health that may or may be an actual diagnosed condition on your medical report.

Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health disorders are frequently diagnosed with addiction when a person arrives at a detox center. This is called a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis (reference 2).

So I may have a mental disorder. Thank you Dr. Obvious, how does this information actually help me?

Knowing you have underlying mental neurodivergence or diversity is one thing, understanding that it may not be permanent and/or your fault is next level in your healing, or at least understanding your addictive processes.

Dr. Stephen Porges, innovator behind the groundbreaking studies on Polyvagal theory states: 

 “There is no such thing as a bad response. There are only adaptive responses.”

This means, your body and brain have developed adaptive behavioral, thinking, and emotional patterns as a way to survive trauma in your family of origin or developmental environment. In short, you have experienced developmental trauma that is hijacking your system and keeping you stuck. The responses you experience kept you safe as a child. In many cases, they may have kept you alive. The problem arises when we bring those adaptive childhood responses into adulthood and expect them to work the same. 

Example: The inner bully in your head arose when you were a child as a response to a hyper-critical or abusive parent. The inner bully was galvanized into action when tensions rose in the family environment. The bully became your internal warning signal that “trouble is coming.” Your body went on alert and your sympathetic nervous system activated to help you survive the criticism or abuse. 

As an adult, your inner bully now shows up when tensions arise, but what was adaptive in childhood (this response kept you physically safe) is now maladaptive (you can’t successfully navigate any type of tension without dissociating, becoming overly enraged to protect yourself, or becoming a people pleaser). 

These maladaptive responses all create neurochemical actions in our bodies, especially our central nervous system. 

These actions are often correlated with going into a sympathetic nervous system response (think “fight or flight”). In that state, our bodies may feel hijacked, anxious, they may speed up, or we may lose our ability to think. 

What do we do then? We pick up a drink to reduce the anxiety happening in our bodies, and our bodies “reward” us by amping down the feelings or state of anxiety. 

Do this enough and you completely rewire the reward system in your brain. 

Cognitively you then begin to associate the substance with a reduction in anxiety and bam 💥 you are hooked on the substance.  

All because your body learned an adaptive response when you were 5 years old that helped you survive. 

So now what? 

Tune into part 2 to learn more.

If you think you are struggling with an addiction and you are ready to get help, call us, we have counselors standing by

(760) 459-5575

If you are not sure if you are an addict, take one of our quizzes below.