How Dangerous Is Unresolved Trauma?

02/26/20: Addiction Recovery
One of the most important things you will do in treatment is confront the trauma you may have experienced in your past. Why? Well, unresolved trauma due to uncomfortable or frightening experiences can still be affecting you today, often without you even realizing. We’ve all likely experienced trauma to some degree in our lives, but usually, the emotional effects of those resolve themselves as the memories of the incident fade. However, for some unlucky individuals, the brain never really lets go. Depending on the severity of the trauma and/or a person’s personal circumstances, these experiences can leave a person vulnerable to developing long-term psychological issues which may result in the person developing unhealthy coping mechanisms, one of which being addiction.

What is trauma?

What exactly classifies something as trauma? Trauma is the response to an event in one’s life that results in feelings of depression, helplessness, distress, and any number of negative emotions. It is impossible to say whether or not something that has happened to you could be considered trauma, by anyone other than yourself of course. Sometimes a person can witness something that we would definitely consider to be a severely traumatic occurrence, and still come out of it without developing any further issues that negatively impact their life. However, on the other hand, there is no severity scale out there that dictates what people should and shouldn’t find traumatic. As long as their brains register an occurrence as trauma, the person can develop mental health issues because of it. That said, the occurrences that are most often considered to be traumatic include:
  • serious accidents
  • physical or sexual assault
  • abuse, including childhood or domestic abuse
  • severe health problems
  • childbirth experiences, such as experiencing a miscarriage
  • war and combat
  • torture
Know, however, that this is not a comprehensive list. Just because you haven’t experienced any of the things listed above, this doesn’t mean that you did not experience trauma. Also know that on the opposite hand, even if you have experienced any or some of the above, it doesn’t mean you must have some sort of problem.

The dangers of unresolved trauma

The symptoms of unresolved trauma can cause a lot of turmoil and conflict in a person’s life. It can be really confusing to be experiencing these troubles but not being able to pinpoint the source. We’ve listed below some of the common symptoms of dealing with unresolved trauma:


  • sadness
  • anger
  • denial
  • shame
  • fear
  • insomnia & sleeping difficulties
  • suffering relationships
  • emotional outbursts


  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • altered sleep patterns
  • changes in appetite
  • headaches
  • stomach problems


  • PTSD
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • dissociative disorder
  • substance abuse problems
Obviously, a lot of these side effects are going to be difficult to cope with on a daily basis. Avoiding confronting your trauma allows these symptoms to persist, and no amount of surface-level symptom management is going to be able to heal you until you dig deep and get to the root of the issue.

Unresolved trauma can lead to addiction

Because of the aforementioned effects of trauma, it can be extremely difficult for people who have experienced it in some form to cope with the negative emotions and stress associated with it. This is where substance abuse comes in. It has been reported that 90 percent of individuals in a behavioral healthcare setting have experienced trauma. As you can assume based on the high number, trauma is potent. This is because trauma often leads to high levels of stress. As we know, stress is one of the biggest contributing factors to developing an addiction. Drugs, alcohol, certain foods, and activities have the same effect of stimulating the brain’s reward center by releasing dopamine, causing us to experience a pleasurable response. The brain remembers the good feeling that the substance or activity caused, and it will instill a desire in you to continue seeking out whatever caused the response. These pleasurable experiences are especially desired when the person is also experiencing stress brought on by trauma, as the dopamine provides an escape from the negative feelings. Another important factor in whether or not a person develops an addiction due to trauma is if they have healthy coping skills. A lack of healthy coping skills is a big predictor of someone turning to drugs, alcohol, or other damaging methods of managing painful emotions. Drug withdrawal symptoms can worsen symptoms and results of trauma, making it extremely difficult to not only stop using the drug but also to heal from the trauma itself. This is why if you or a loved one are struggling with ill effects from trauma and addiction, it is crucial to seek help as quickly as possible so that you can begin the process of healing as soon as possible.

Treatment Options for Trauma & Substance Abuse

When trauma and addiction are present, it is essential to use a holistic approach and treat the two simultaneously. Not only is the interplay between trauma and addiction complex, but each individual will have different symptoms and experiences which add to the layers of complexity with treatment. If the dependence on the drug is significant, detoxing is usually the first step. Medical detox is the best and most optimal plan of action for kickstarting treatment. During medical detox, an individual is admitted to a specialized addiction treatment facility where they can stay for as long as it takes for them to get the drug out of their system. These facilities have 24/7 access to knowledgeable, trained medical professionals and mental health counselors who are there for you whenever you need them. You will be able to heal in a secure, safe, and comfortable environment. In order to better manage stress, cope with potential triggers, enhance one’s self-esteem, and combat negative thoughts, behavioral therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) may be used. In addition, Exposure Therapy is useful in helping those with PTSD confront their fears and traumas head-on. In addition, medications, when used in conjunction with behavioral therapy techniques, can help manage severe symptoms so that a person can enjoy their daily life.

In conclusion…

Trauma can be resolved. But in order for that to happen, you must first confront the source of your trauma and learn how to work through the negative, scary feelings with a trained, licensed, professional counselor. Once you overcome the demons of your past, you can truly begin to hone in on your own personal self-reflection and growth, and become the person you’ve always hoped you could be.

If you or someone you know needs help with addiction, contact 602-737-1619 or email [email protected] to get the help you need. Our acclaimed recovery environment merges upscale, luxury accommodations with affordability, clinical expertise and an unwavering commitment to patient care and aftercare.

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