Trauma, Addiction and Natural Disasters

Trauma, Addiction and Natural DisastersThe trauma experienced during natural disasters such as fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, hurricanes or disease outbreaks can have devastating effects on a person’s physical and psychological health. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may result, and any lasting effects of trauma can lead to substance abuse and addiction, as the individual consciously or subconsciously attempts to self-medicate symptoms.

What Does Trauma Do to the Brain?

The brain controls a wide range of essential physical and emotional responses through an intricate and somewhat fragile system of chemical signals and responses. Trace amounts of hormones and other naturally occurring chemicals manage the following functions:

  • Waking and sleeping
  • Appetite
  • Motivation and mood
  • Fear response (fight or flight)
  • Sexual attraction
  • Relational bonding and comfort
  • Anxiety and stress management

Trauma shocks this system with extremely high doses of these chemicals, as the brain attempts to give the body the burst of energy it may need to escape danger. The immediate effects of trauma on a person’s system are relatively obvious and include the following:

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Perspiration
  • Hypervigilance

What is often less apparent is the long-term impact on the brain. Like a fragile circuit board overloaded by the surge of electricity after a lightning strike, the surge of adrenaline during trauma can permanently alter the chemical balance in a person’s brain. This can lead to a wide range of possible symptoms including the following:

  • Panic attacks and other anxiety disorders
  • Sleeplessness and nightmares
  • Relationship problems
  • Eating disorders
  • Anger management or rage issues
  • Self-destructive urges
  • Flashbacks
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

How Is Addiction Related to Trauma?

Substance abuse and addiction are common among survivors of traumatic natural disasters, as they attempt to address their feelings of anxiety, panic or other distress through drug and alcohol use. Some turn to illicit substances, while others get hooked on prescription antidepressants or painkillers. The added stress of addiction ultimately makes daily life unbearable.

Successful treatment of PTSD and addiction requires the careful diagnosis and treatment of all co-occurring psychological issues in addition to treatment for addiction. Simply getting clean will not be enough. PTSD symptoms can occur weeks, months, years or even decades after the original trauma. Specialized counseling such as dialectical behavior therapy can help a person develop new coping skills for managing trauma and avoiding escalating addiction and other self-destructive tendencies.

Specialized Addiction Help Is Available for Trauma Victims

If you have experienced trauma, and if you are concerned about substance abuse or addiction after a natural disaster, please call our toll-free helpline today. Our counselors are ready to answer your questions about trauma, addiction and recovery. You have already survived much, and we can help you survive the aftermath of natural disasters or addiction as well. We can help you find the emotional and physical healing you deserve, and we are here 24 hours a day to do so.

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