top of page
  • Writer's pictureYour Story Counselling

How to navigate and overcome Trauma and Addiction

Trauma and Addiction

Different forms of addiction fulfill the same role

There are many different forms of addiction – you can be addicted to alcohol or other drugs, gambling, online shopping, social media, video games, TV, pornography, nicotine, caffeine, sex, sugar, or food (this list is not exhaustive). Addictions help you to escape or numb pain, soothe your anxieties, mask shame, or fill the emptiness inside, yet the avoidance behaviour and compulsion of addiction, despite knowing that it is hurting you, fills you with yet more shame, and you feel the need to escape again. And the cycle continues. Most forms of addiction give you a reward – a hit of dopamine in an instantaneous way that nothing else can. It fills the void that can never be filled, because it actually yearns to be filled with human connection, self-worth, and a meaningful life. 

Trauma as root cause

Trauma and Addiction

Trauma is a response to distressing events such as violence, abuse, war, accidents, natural disasters, sudden death, or witnessing shocking events. We all experience trauma in distinct and unique ways, and our long-lasting emotional responses vary. Trauma can affect how your brain regulates emotions and decision-making.

When trauma wounds remain unhealed, you turn to compulsive habits (otherwise known as addictions), for comfort. Often the root cause of the pain you are trying to avoid through addiction is located in childhood trauma, which can be due to abuse, neglect, or other forms of dysfunction. The lack of love and connection during development does not give you the ability to feel the endorphins naturally, without external inputs (such as alcohol, food, sex, etc.). Those inputs then transform into addictions during adolescence or adulthood. Other forms of trauma during adulthood can also exacerbate a dependency habit (e.g. sexual assault, family violence, and other forms of abuse). The impacts of ongoing or repeated traumas can be cumulative and become entrenched. Addictions are coping strategies (also known as self-medication), which require healing as well. So, addiction and trauma work together in an endless cycle until it is interrupted by treatment.

At the same time, while you are increasing your addictive activities, you are decreasing the other activities that you used to enjoy, and this only increases your need for the addiction even further. This can lead to an increasing imbalance in your life – and sometimes even take over your life altogether, resulting in unemployment, losing relationships, housing, etc.

Psychotherapy for post-traumatic growth

Psychotherapy for post-traumatic growth

While post-traumatic stress is often discussed, there is also such a thing as post-traumatic growth. It has long been recognized that healing from addiction cannot be done alone, as it is isolation that works to maintain addictions. One of the many supports that can provide treatment for addictions is psychotherapy. A therapist can help you discover which other supports might be needed, for example, social supports that will decrease the isolation and help you recover balance in your life. With chemical addictions (substances), detoxification might be needed in a specialized treatment facility, in order to physically stabilize. 

Psychotherapy can help support recovery and personal awareness of potential behavioural addictions (also known as process addictions). These addictions can show up and replace the initial addiction you are recovering from. 

Therapy can help you learn to pay attention to your thoughts and emotions that you were escaping from or masking with the addiction. Psychotherapy can also support you to work through relational issues, which might trigger uncomfortable emotions that prompt you to reach for your vice yet again. Finally, therapy can also help to work through past trauma that caused the pain to begin with. 

Here are some of the ways that therapy can support you to overcome addiction:

  1. Addressing the underlying trauma – healing from childhood trauma by identifying and resolving the root cause of addiction, by seeing how it no longer serves you as the coping strategy that you initially needed to protect yourself from pain. Releasing “old stuff” can help you heal and decrease the physical and emotional dependency on the external inputs.

  2. Discovering and (re)building alternative coping tools that can replace addictions to bring you innate ways of experiencing pleasure and endorphins and to respond to distressing situations, without turning to addictions.

  3. Reframing your personal narratives to strengthen your self-image and self-worth. (Re)discovering your sources of strength and fulfillment, reducing the need for the addictive behaviour to fill the void.

  4. Becoming aware of your thoughts and feelings that might prompt you to engage in your addictive behaviours so that you can consciously choose an alternative action, empowering and strengthening recovery.

In sum, psychotherapy can support you to transform post-traumatic stress and addiction into post-traumatic growth and healing, so that you can live your fullest life, finding endorphins through connection, self-love, and a meaningful life.


About the author


Suzanne is a Student Intern at Your Story Counselling Services, as part of the Master of Social Work program. Suzanne aims to hold space with empathy and compassion, to provide a space to work through a range of challenges that life can bring with it (i.e. relational issues, depression and anxiety, trauma, grief, communication and boundary setting, burnout, parenting and chronic illness).

She works with a trauma-informed, feminist, decolonial and 2SLGBTQIAA+ affirming lens. 

Interested in booking with Suzanne? Book here:  

To learn more about the Your Story Counselling Team and the services we offer click here.

If you have additional questions regarding the contents of this article please feel free to contact us and we will be happy to answer you.

Should you have questions or inquiries regarding counselling and the process of counselling, please visit our FAQ page. contact us to ask questions, or learn more about our team of therapists before signing up for a free 15 minute consultation.


bottom of page