Why Identifying Trauma is Important

Why Identifying Trauma is Important

Whenever you experience an event such as the loss of a loved one, taking part in combat, rape, or serious injury, you have faced trauma. If a traumatic event happened when you were a child, it is often more difficult to remember and you may never process it.

The good news is that not everyone who endures a traumatic event is scarred by it. Trauma feelings cannot be repressed or forgotten. If they are not dealt with directly, the distressing feelings and troubling events can replay over and over in the course of a lifetime, and even create the condition called post-traumatic stress disorder.[1]

There is a clear relationship between trauma and addiction. Research suggests that close to 50 percent of people with histories of addiction have experienced trauma.[2]When you experience trauma, there are four stages you go through to heal from it. In the first stage you are overwhelmed and mentally shut down. You may go into denial and not believe that the events have really happened. For example, if you were seriously injured, you may not believe the doctor’s diagnosis. You may even strive to prove them wrong. The second stage is anger and you may ask questions like “why did this have to happen to me?” It is possible that you get cranky or bitter and have anger-filled outbursts. The third stage is commonly associated with bargaining. You may plead with God or the doctors to fix you or even to try some experimental surgery. You do not want to encounter the problem head on so you are looking for any other way to process it. The next stage is characterized by an episode of depression, which is a period of extreme sadness. You may contemplate the meaninglessness of living. You then withdraw and focus on your depression. The final stage is acceptance, and this is where you accept that an event happened and now your life has changed. This stage is not saying everything is okay but rather learning to live with this new normal.

When someone is in the middle of the bargaining stage or depression stage in the trauma process, they are at their highest risk for addiction to develop. In many cases, when an individual is depressed he withdraws from others, which further stimulates feelings of loneliness. When you are lonely and disconnected from others, you are not thinking clearly and you are also not being encouraged by any positive influences. The only real influence is the negative thoughts which are flowing regularly with depression. If you try drinking alcohol or doing drugs during this time and it helps you feel better, it is easy to see why you may continue to use them to cope.

As your level of tolerance builds over time, you eventually have to drink more or do more drugs to achieve the same desired effects. While you feel better for a limited amount of time, it actually makes matters worse. Alcohol is a depressant, so it actually can make you feel more depressed. You’ll likely have sleep problems and even have impaired judgment. When you are not thinking clearly, you are much more likely to make poor decisions — ones that you normally would not make. Drinking alcohol while depressed raises the risk of suicide as well.

So what can you do if you think you have experienced a traumatic event but never really accepted it or healed from it? Here are two simple steps you can take.

Admit that something is wrong

If possible, it is important to be able to realize that something is wrong and that you have never coped with it. If you have experienced a traumatic event, it often feels scary or overwhelming to admit that it happened. You don’t have to talk about it immediately, but do find the support of a close friend or family member. Take your time and make sure you know you are safe and the person you are talking to can be trusted.

Get help for any substance abuse problems

If you are participating in any form of substance abuse such as doing illegal drugs, drinking or even abusing prescription drugs, reach out for help immediately. The chemicals you are taking could be putting your life in danger, depending on the details of the situation. Call a friend or family member that you trust. Talk to a counselor. You can even call our helpline right now if you want someone to talk to anonymously. Our counselors are professionally trained and will not share the details of your situation with anyone unless you want them to. Please talk to someone and reach out for help so you can heal and feel better.


[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200308/recovering-trauma Recovering from Trauma. McGrath, Ellen.

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/some-assembly-required/201603/trauma-tips-understanding-and-healing-part-3-4 Trauma Tips for Understanding and Healing. Mager ,Dan.