Traumatic life events impact people around the world every day. Whether from war, domestic abuse, or witnessing a natural disaster, the experience of trauma is common. Subsequent emotional and behavioral responses to past wounds can be destructive to a person’s mental and physical well-being. Getting professional help may be an important step in preventing the development of mental illness or addiction.
What Are the Four Trauma Responses?
Trauma is an emotional response to an event or situation perceived by an individual as threatening to their life or overall well-being. Traumatic events can have lasting impacts on a person’s mental and physical health. There are four main responses to trauma that are marked by key symptoms. It is common for individuals to recognize these in themselves or others:
Fight. When facing conflict, an individual may become more aggressive or confrontational. They may have high reactivity, meaning that they struggle with controlling their anger and irritability and are prone to “blow up.” This can happen if triggers are present or if an individual has been gaslit. Hyper-vigilance may also occur, which manifests as bracing oneself for things to go terribly wrong or to be betrayed.
Flight. Instead of sticking around to defend one’s position, an individual may flee from the situation. They may experience hyper-independence which causes them to put up an emotional wall and say “I can figure this out alone” or “I don’t need anyone,” although they may not believe this narrative. Hyper-vigilance can also occur here.
Freeze. An individual becomes immobile and physically unable to respond. Their emotions may be overwhelming and confusing, so they completely shut down in response to conflict. To others, this trauma response can look like the individual is ghosting them or giving them the silent treatment.
Fawn. This response involves an individual attempting to please another person to avoid a problem or alleviate tension. They may feel like they have to over-explain their position to avoid negative treatment. This may be the result of being neglected as a child and having their feelings and opinions chronically invalidated. In addition, an individual may overshare information about themselves due to insecurities about how they are perceived. Oversharing unloads a person’s personal baggage at the get-go. Hyper-compliance is another fawning response that means a person does things to keep the peace despite their boundaries being violated.
How Does Trauma Impact Well-Being?
Experiencing trauma does not mean that a person is definitely going to develop post-traumatic stress syndrome or any other trauma- or stress-related disorder. However, the risks associated with exposure to trauma can significantly interfere with one’s life if ignored or mismanaged. Research has shown that traumatic experiences can have a range of impacts on an individual’s physical, emotional, social, cognitive, behavioral, and developmental health, causing mental health concerns such as:
- Anxiety disorders
- Sleep disturbances
- Emotional dysregulation
- Substance use disorders
- Major depressive disorder
- Attempted/completed suicide
- Post-traumatic stress syndrome
- Chronic health conditions
- Cognitive errors, delusions, idealization, etc.
Connecting the Dots to Addiction
Everyone copes with trauma in their own way, even if those coping mechanisms are not the healthiest. Some engage in risky or compulsive behaviors, like unsafe sex with strangers or working long and exhausting hours. Some do not deal with their trauma at all and instead repress their emotions by ignoring them or denying that the traumatic experience ever occurred.
Alcohol and/or drug use is another common mechanism used to suppress distressing emotions like fear, sadness, guilt, or disconnection from reality. However, this only creates bigger problems. The repeated use of substances makes it more difficult for an individual to regulate their emotions and respond to stress appropriately. Trauma survivors that turn to substances may find themselves in a more vulnerable position and put themselves at a high risk of developing an addiction.
You Can Recover From Trauma
If an individual has experienced trauma, their mental and physical well-being may have been affected. They may try telling themselves that they have healed and nothing is wrong. Because of associated risks, however, it may be critical for them to consider the possibility that they are unaware of how wounds inflicted on them in the past are affecting them today. If an individual uses substances frequently, there may be something going on below the surface.
Therapy and substance abuse treatment may be necessary if support from family, friends, and support groups is not working. Finding a treatment center that considers why a person started drinking or using drugs is important to fully recovering from both conditions. A residential program will help to develop healthy coping mechanisms and strategies for responding to triggering situations in a way that reduces stress and anxiety and avoids substances.
Traumatic experiences can have lasting effects on a person’s mental and physical health. Substance use is a common way of coping with negative emotions stemming from unhealed wounds of the past. Getting caught in the vicious cycle of addiction can worsen mental and emotional issues and complicate treatment. Oceanfront Recovery is here to help you. Our residential treatment facility is located in the beautiful Laguna Beach, California. Our residences offer a comfortable and peaceful environment for you to start healing from underlying issues that have led you to become addicted. Our clinicians are Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists with years of experience in the field. They provide a safe and compassionate space where you can unpack any concerns you’ve been harboring. Dealing with the impacts of trauma and getting help for substance use is possible. You can change your story with a little help. Call Oceanfront Recovery at (877) 279-1777 to learn how we can help you recover.