Psychologiacal trauma is a form of damage to the mind as a result of a brief or long-term distressing event. What is psychologically traumatic to one person may not necessarily be so traumatic to another. An example of this could be the loss of a pet. Whilst one family member disintegrates and dives into the grieving process another family member may seem unruffled, even cold! Interestingly enough, The unruffled family member may also be grieving but not in such an overt way and has ‘elected’ to cope with the situation by denying there has been a traumatic event. Trauma is not necessarily complex but it can be avoided and hidden in a number of unexpected ways.
Trauma and Addiction
The stereotypical aspect of trauma and addiction could be someone who experiences being in a car crash and is given morphine at the hospital for the pain of their broken legs! The patient can quite quickly build up a dependence on the pain killer and can start to seek out painkillers on the black market post hospital. I actually have a friend who ‘snapped’ their ankle jumping off a post office letter box and she became addicted to pain killers for many years and she eventually stopped taking pills with the help of a rehab.
There are a number of addicts, who for no apparent reason develop an addiction to mood altering substances with no immediate understanding as to why this person is seemingly open to self-destruction!
Nine years later and during their second visit to a rehab a client starts to explore the never before spoken topic of sexual abuse. For many years this client managed to self-medicate by convincing themselves that the sexual abuse was ‘their’ fault in an attempt to make the uncomfortable feelings more manageable. Over time, this approach no longer worked and so the client started smoking cannabis. After a time this no longer worked so the client progressed to heroin abuse which temporarily numbed all and any unwanted feelings! Following a near fatal overdose the client agreed to going to their first rehab. The client did not explore sexual abuse and the topic was not covered in the rehab, the focus was purely on heroin addiction. In the second rehab, sexual abuse was explored but the client denied this was part of his journey but did eventually discuss sexual abuse during an individual counselling session.
A client who has an experience of this nature could engage in fairly long-term therapy whilst staying clean and sober, one day at a time!
Trauma can be underestimated and words such as ‘ a slightly difficult experience’ could be used to describe a horrific and traumatic event. Traumatic events do not necessarily need to be on an extreme scale. An example could be the loss of a cat as a child which was possibly not recognised as particularly serious by the parents. To the child, this cat may have represented so much more than what it represented to the rest of the family and so the sudden loss could be extremely traumatic without any appropriate acknowledgement or closure.
‘Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder-PTSD
Some of the emotional symptoms associated with PTSD are:
- Avoiding conversations associated with the trauma and not dealing with or confronting emotions and feelings.
- Avoiding certain people or places that may arouse memories of the incident.
- Feeling detached or estranged from society and friends. Interests, hobbies or activities are considered unimportant and not worth any effort to reincorporate into their life.
- Difficulty in having or continuing with intimate relationships. This is especially true if sexual or physical abuse is the reason for the trauma.
This leads the person to complain of Depression, Fatalism, Hopelessness, Indecision and Overwhelming fear
Some of the physical symptoms associated with PTSD are:
- Difficulty relaxing, or sleeping soundly.
- Easily agitated or irritable. Changeable behavior or mood swings
- Poor concentration or ability to complete tasks.
David is the Clinical and Development Director of Twin Rivers Rehab in South Africa and a UK Accredited Addictions Therapist with the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals UK. Articles/Blogs are written with the assistance of researchers and other specialists in the field of addiction and the recovery process