The Link Between Trauma and Addiction in Families
Mental health

The Link Between Trauma and Addiction in Families

People who are living with addiction all have a unique story to share about why they turn to substance use. Very often, the reasons why are linked to past traumatic experiences in life, even tracing back to experiences growing up at home. 


Living with memories of abuse and negativity, especially with family, can be hard for people to cope with. Looking for relief from these painful feelings in the form of substances is more common than people might think.

Sometimes, the best way to address struggles with addiction for the long term is by unpacking those past familial traumas. 

The Link Between Trauma and Addiction in Families

How Trauma Affects the Mind

Mentally healing from trauma and addiction takes time and intentional effort from the person being affected. What’s important to remember about the mind’s relationship to experienced trauma is that the pain is stored in the body systems, and this can affect the way someone reacts to different life situations. 


This can be in the form of developing an overactive fight or flight mode, an increase in panicked feelings or dissociative symptoms when experiencing triggers, sleep issues, and more. These feelings of trauma and its effects can lead people to engage in risky coping behaviors, or possibly lead to the development of a mental disorder.

Trauma and C-PTSD

Things get more complex if the trauma is from events experienced over a sustained period of time, compared to a sudden single traumatic event. This kind of continuous trauma is often classified or diagnosed as complex post-traumatic stress disorder, or C-PTSD. 

Think for a moment about terms like generational trauma or family curses, and how they relate to traumas that are passed on throughout the family unit over the years. Complex PTSD is identified differently from regular PTSD by its consistent nature, and the world of family trauma is the perfect breeding ground for C-PTSD to develop.

Complex PTSD is still a fairly new recognized diagnosis. This disorder shares all the same characteristics of PTSD, with the potential for distrust toward others and feeling guilty or shame toward the self. Having trouble feeling comfortable or safe in relationships with others can be very isolating. 

Coping With the Past

Dealing with complex traumas without wanting or connecting to support from others can potentially lead to maladaptive coping mechanisms. A person may be called to withdraw from their social systems, struggle with working with others, or spiral into engaging in unhealthy behaviors.  

Addiction After Trauma

Those living with traumas that are close to home can be drawn to substances for a variety of reasons. By offering an escape from hard-to-process feelings, addictive behaviors like overdrinking alcohol or overusing drugs can be enticing for people going through these complex emotions, as a way to self-soothe from discomfort.


When these coping methods become repeated habits, asking for support is in your best interest. Overcoming addiction and freeing yourself from the urge to consume substances offers promising clarity from the situation. However, it can be difficult to stop on your own. 

Seeking outside treatment for addiction is a challenging and brave decision to make, and does not signal weakness in the slightest. On the contrary, asking for a helping hand while undergoing such intense feelings is a testament to your strength more than anything else. 

Healing From Trauma

Beginning the healing process from family trauma is the first step of a beautiful journey. With time and care, overcoming the symptoms of addiction and stress will lead to healthier coping mechanisms, greater self-worth, and improved relationships with others.

Trauma-Informed Care

When seeking treatment, be sure to ask your providers to see if trauma-informed care is available. Mental health professionals who provide this type of service are aware of the inherent connection between past trauma and current behavior. 

There are several different forms of trauma-informed care, and talking with your therapist or counselor about these methods can help you both determine the most ideal approach to undertake. Don’t be afraid to experiment with multiple types. Odds are, there is more than one form of trauma-informed care that can be beneficial for your unique situation.

Overcoming the Past

Past familial trauma can be especially challenging to live through, especially if it has happened consistently through childhood and even beyond. Know that you are not alone in experiencing the associated negative feelings, and that your life does not have to be defined by how you react to it.

Instead, try sitting with and reframing these complex emotions with a licensed care provider and within yourself. Healing from family wounds is entirely possible, and within your hands.


Hy I'm iffy!! A chronic worshiper with a DIY spirit! After a near death experience I started my journey to living a more purposeful life.

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