Name: Hannah Lauren Burson
From: Los Angeles, CA
Resolving Individual and Societal Trauma as Treatment for Addiction
Resolving Individual and Societal Trauma as Treatment for Addiction
As a daughter of two people who met in Alcoholics Anonymous, I am a product of two people who overcame their addictions and created better lives for themselves and their children. From observing them and working through my own trauma issues, I have come to believe that addiction is a coping mechanism for living with unresolved trauma. Heading to physical therapy school this fall, I am interested in further researching and treating patients who suffer from trauma and working to provide physical relief from the pain mental illness can cause the physical body. I believe, if patients who struggle with addiction started working with a mental health therapist who specializes in trauma, they would find longer lasting success in their recovery. As a society, if we accepted unresolved trauma as a root cause for addiction and made treatment accessible, we would see a decrease in people who suffer from addiction.
Unresolved trauma is the main cause of addiction in our nation on both a personal level and a societal level. Many different situations can lead to a person being traumatized. These can include but are not limited to violence, broken families, family shame, sexual abuse, etc… When a person endures a trauma, their brain chemistry changes and labels everything in that event as “danger”. The brain is efficient and will over label situations to make sure to protect itself in the future. This can be problematic however, for a survivor to reintegrate into normal life when they are constantly battling their thoughts and feelings that remain on high alert long after the traumatic event is over. This can lead a victim to isolate and suffer from anxiety and depression as they relive the trauma every day. For example, if a person was physically abused by their mother, they might avoid all intimate relationships with women moving forward because their brain has labeled intimate relationships with women as a traumatic and dangerous experience.
Many victims of unresolved trauma do not get the treatment they need due to symptoms remaining invisible to others. However, to the person who experienced a trauma, the pain is very real and debilitating. If people do try and get treatment, they can oftentimes be misdiagnosed due to having symptoms of other mental health disorders. If a mental health professional doesn’t understand trauma, they might diagnose someone as having depression caused by chemical imbalances in the brain instead of finding a broader diagnosis of PTSD which is causing the symptoms of depression. The treatment for someone with PTSD looks different than for someone with depression, and this will affect the success this person has with recovery. If the person with depression were diagnosed with PTSD and worked with a professional to sort through that trauma, their depression might go away through their trauma recovery. However, if this person is only diagnosed with depression and never addresses the trauma in their past which is causing the depression, they will continue to battle this depression with medications and other treatment methods that never truly resolve the root of the issue. A traumatized brain is one that has become very sensitive to anything that brings up reminders of the trauma event. This person will then continue to suffer long after the event by having flashbacks and reexperiencing the emotions from that original event until they are guided through the healing process with a therapist or support group. One of the ways people cope with unresolved trauma is by turning to drugs and alcohol to provide a break from the mental noise. Without accessible recovery options, drugs and alcohol can look like the only option available to find relief. Many people suffering from unresolved trauma don’t want to die, they want to stop reliving past trauma. Drugs and alcohol are the only way they can cope with the pain they are experiencing. If we can treat the victim’s unresolved trauma, they will no longer have a reason to escape their reality.
On a societal level, we are being bombarded with traumatic information on a minute-by-minute basis. Information about climate change, the horrors of the meat industry, health concerns, violent attacks, gun violence, racial tension, ocean acidification, and the list goes on and on. Not only do we have more accessibility to this information due to technology, but we can also see horrifying videos on our devices all day, every day. This information causes intense emotion and feelings of hopelessness. It is no wonder that society feels hopeless against these giant problems. These problems are emotional and heavy and people of all races, classes, etc.… can suffer from addiction by turning to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. Addiction does not discriminate. Not only will trauma work on an individual scale heal society, but it will help people adopt similar approaches to healing societal trauma. The more we heal our world, the less people will feel a need to escape reality through addiction to drugs and alcohol. After a person has healed past trauma within themselves, they know how to be patient with solving other problems. Healed people, heal people.
The consequences of addiction for the individual are an inability to resolve trauma and grow. Hurt people, hurt people and this is the case for people who suffer with addiction. I grew up in a house with two recovered addicts as parents. If they were still in their addictions, my life growing up would have looked very different. Luckily, my parents attended Alcoholics Anonymous since before I was born and continued to give back to that community by sponsoring younger addicts. As sober individuals, they have spoken openly about the gratitude they feel for getting to live a sober life when that did not seem possible before recovery. They both suffered through traumatic events in their childhood and found refuge in drinking and doing drugs. Through their addiction, they ruined relationships and found themselves in dangerous situations.
On a societal level, people dealing with addiction are in pain and require resources and patience. They are less able to contribute to a healthy society and if they are not given effective treatment, they can put themselves and others in danger by doing anything to get the relief drugs and alcohol provide for them. As a child of parents with trauma that they had not fully resolved themselves, they unknowingly passed suffering onto me. I had trauma from my childhood I needed to resolve in order to live my most healthy and productive life. I didn’t want to pass on negative and self-sabotaging beliefs to the next generation, so I went to therapy to end the trauma with me.
If we want society to heal, we have to heal each individual. Once people heal, they heal other people. We as a society can heal the addiction problem, if we start healing the root problem people become addicted. If it’s to avoid intense feelings of pain, trauma therapy is a great place to start.
To heal our society, we need to train more mental health specialists in how to diagnose and treat trauma. Once we can get to the root cause of a person’s pain and determine what is driving them to participate in drugs and alcohol to escape reality, we can start to help people resolve their pain and begin living fulfilling and healthy lives. Once there are enough mental health specialists trained, they will be available to help those with addiction issues. Once we have enough people trained and available to help those who need it, we need to make the service accessible to those who need it. Homeless populations would be a great place to start. Teams could visit homeless communities and start to ask who would like to start working on their addiction issues. In schools, children could begin learning about what trauma is and what types of behaviors unresolved trauma can lead to. Once the word is out, and there are places for people to go for free or affordable care, society will begin to heal and individuals with addiction will decrease. As a physical therapist, I will do what I can to understand how to help people through movement and manual therapy to overcome their pain. I believe pain can start in the mind and manifest in the body, and I am grateful to learn how to help patients treat these different types of pain in their lives.
I have optimism in humans as being adaptable and wanting to heal the world. People with addiction are in pain and would benefit from personalized mental health therapy with an emphasis on addressing unresolved trauma. I am grateful to have learned from my parent’s addiction issues to have a greater understanding and empathy for those who suffer. It is my hope, I can continue to use this compassion to heal others through my own work and as a leader in the medical field.