We all have ways we escape negative feelings. Often referred to as opt outs, are ways to peace out from the darkest parts of ourselves that bring discomfort. Your opt outs may just present differently than someone who is addicted to legal or illegal substances. People will opt out by scrolling on their phone for hours, by therapeutic shopping, comfort eating, sleeping, avoiding, binge watching Netflix or through video games. The difference is that those “opt outs” may not appear to impact your ability to function in society. You may still be able to hold down a job even though when 5 o’clock hits you immediately jump on your console and game for 6 hours straight, thus getting nothing else accomplished resulting in feelings of not being good enough or shame.

 “I bring this up so that people think a little bit differently about addiction and the stigma that comes with it.” 

Addiction, often perceived in isolation, is frequently intertwined with underlying trauma. Here I aim to delve into the intricate relationship between addiction and trauma, highlighting the significant correlation and the impact of unresolved trauma on addictive behaviors. By exploring existing research and psychological insights to uncover the narrative that addiction doesn’t typically manifest without a history of trauma. 

In many cases, addiction stems from unprocessed trauma. Research suggests that experiences of trauma, whether emotional, physical, or psychological, can significantly increase the risk of addiction as individuals seek relief from their pain. Trauma survivors often resort to substances or behaviors as coping mechanisms to numb emotional distress or memories associated with their traumatic experiences. This inclination towards addictive behavior may be a direct response to unaddressed trauma. Neuroscientific studies suggest that trauma can alter brain function, affecting areas associated with decision-making and emotional regulation. These alterations may lead to a heightened vulnerability to addictive tendencies. 

Addressing trauma is crucial for breaking the cycle of addiction. Failure to acknowledge and treat underlying trauma can perpetuate addictive behaviors, leading to recurrent cycles of substance misuse or compulsive habits. 

Getting to the root of trauma rather than seeking more surface level coping skills and strategies (healthy or unhealthy) can build a deeper understanding of individual trauma or “micro traumas” to alleviate the need to turn to opt outs. While most people would rather be tortured than to actually sit with their emotions, it actually does the opposite of what you think it does. It dissipates and the brain can let it go after you face it and process it, leaving you feeling lighter, more hopeful and able to move forward in a more healthy way.


Trauma and Substance Abuse: The Need to Connect, Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy

The Relationship Between Trauma and Addiction, Psychology Today

The Effects of Trauma on the Brain and Addiction, National Institute on Drug Abuse

Trauma-Informed Care and Addiction Treatment, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration