Undiagnosed Trauma Can Lead To Substance Abuse

October 14, 2015 Ryan Poling, MA, MAT

Undiagnosed trauma can lead to substance abuse, and unfortunately, it happens too often. Trauma affects our brains and our lives in ways we can't imagine. From the isolating devastation of a loved one’s suicide to the shared grief of a population under attack, trauma touches our lives in myriad ways, with each experience exacting a unique toll on those affected.

One of the problems some undiagnosed trauma sufferers experience is substance abuse. People with undiagnosed trauma may turn to substance abuse to soothe their troubled minds. Why is this?

Treatment Program: Hugh C. McBride writes on behalf of Starlite Recovery Center, an innovative and effective addiction treatment program in Center Point, Texas, that has been providing life-changing residential treatment services to adults for more than 50 years.

The Insidious Nature of Trauma

Mention the word “trauma” to most people, and there is a good chance that their first thoughts will be related to military combat PTSD or a particularly bad automobile accident. And while these examples definitely fall within the category of traumatic events that may lead to significant psychological distress, they are far from the only ones. PTSD can result from many types of trauma.

One of the most insidious aspects of trauma is the way that it can isolate sufferers from potential sources of support. Unlike a broken leg or even a bad case of the flu, trauma does not reveal itself via easy-to-see signs and symptoms. The co-worker with whom you have lunch twice a week, the friendly barista who sells you your morning coffee, the new neighbor who shovels snow out of your driveway without being asked – can you confidently state that you would definitely know if any of these people were dealing with trauma? (Spoiler alert: No, you wouldn’t.)

In many cases, even people who are suffering from the symptoms of PTSD and trauma don’t realize what they are experiencing. They just know that they feel shame, guilt, self-hatred, unreasonable panic, unexplainable anger, or one of the many other psychological ramifications of untreated trauma. Tragically, instead of understanding that they have a problem, they live with the fear that they are the problem.

Using Drugs, Alcohol to Cope with Trauma

An unfortunate result of undiagnosed trauma can be substance abuse. Find out why many turn to alcohol or drugs after a trauma, and what you can do to help.An unfortunately common result of undiagnosed trauma is that sufferers turn to alcohol, drugs or other substances as a means of self-medicating their mental health problem and thereby numbing themselves to the psychological distress they experience.

The woman who survived years of relationship abuse turns to pain pills at the end of every day in a desperate attempt to keep the nightmares at bay. The father whose son won’t ever come home again needs a drink or two just to find the strength to get out of bed and get through another day.

Trauma isolates. And then, ever so slowly, it devastates.

On World Suicide Prevention Day, we take a few extra seconds to post a list of resources on our Facebook pages. On Sept. 11, we pause for a moment of silence and hopefully we are a little less abrupt with each other for the rest of the day. And when a news story or a photo from a war-torn neighborhood hits particularly close to our heart, we write a check to the Red Cross.

Too often, though, these moments pass, and we return to our regular everyday lives.

What we too often fail to realize is that for so many of our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and casual acquaintances, trauma is a central component of every moment of their regular everyday lives. And when that life also involves substance abuse, the pain can be magnified exponentially.

If you care about someone who you think may be dealing with trauma and substance abuse, take a moment to make a phone call or send a message. Your simple expression of compassion may start a dialogue that leads your friend or loved one to get the help that he or she needs (How To Help Someone With A Mental Illness).

If you recognize yourself in any of the examples on this page, know this: You have value, you do not deserve the distress that you are experiencing, and help is available. With proper care, your life can get much better. And you are worth it.

You are most definitely worth it.

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APA Reference
Poling, R. (2015, October 14). Undiagnosed Trauma Can Lead To Substance Abuse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Ryan Poling, MA, MAT

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