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Alcohol, trauma and their ties to problematic drug and alcohol use

By Tim Woodley

Anger is often part of the mental makeup of some using drugs or alcohol. Drug and alcohol users sometimes fail to connect their tendency towards anger with their use, which is dangerous; an estimated 2.4 million adults in the UK last year reported experiencing domestic abuse, and in most cases, alcohol was involved.

Nearly 21,000 adults over 51 went to A&E last year due to violence-related injury – the highest rate in over nine years. In many cases, violence towards others is borne out of trauma experienced earlier in life, creating a cycle of abuse that is strongly tied to drug and alcohol use.

How, then, can we manage the danger of anger within us? Are we doomed to struggle with it if we are addicted to a substance?

 

Anger and alcohol

While we’re focusing on anger and alcohol, it’s important to also recognise anger as acceptable in many cases. All of us can rightfully feel annoyed, displeased or hostile towards ourselves and others at times. These emotions are valid and attacking yourself mentally for experiencing them is unlikely to benefit you in any way.

It’s often a different story where substances and anger are concerned, particularly alcohol. Anger and alcohol are strongly tied in addiction research to substance use disorders. Children who have been raised in a home that regularly involves violence, aggression and alcohol are more than twice as likely than their peers to have a substance use disorder themselves by young adulthood. They’re also more likely to develop violent and abusive behaviour.


Inhibition and alcohol

A key reason why alcohol and anger are so dangerous is inhibition. When drunk, your inhibitions are lowered, making you more likely to engage in risky behaviour and to act compulsively. This combines with the common tendency to suppress emotions to create a toxic and explosive cocktail, with an angry drunk individual becoming dangerous to themselves and those around them.

This lowering of inhibition is nothing but bad news for a person struggling with problematic alcohol use - and those around them. For those problematic and dependent drinkers, the fact of their relationship to alcohol means they are more likely to experience cross-addiction. This is when their addictive behaviour and tendency spills over into another substance or activity such as a new substance, gambling or sex, all of which are used as a coping strategy.

In this way, the fact that alcohol lowers our inhibitions so can act as a powerful boost into the downward spiral of greater use.


Drugs, alcohol and trauma

Drug and alcohol use is known to have exceptionally strong ties to trauma, particularly childhood trauma. Studies show as many as 75% of adults in rehab and drug and alcohol treatment to have experienced abuse and trauma, and as many as a third of people who experience trauma develop Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder. Those diagnosed with PTSD are three times more likely to abuse substances.

For survivors of traumatic events, anger can be an expression of hatred towards their abusers. It can, however, be an expression of contempt and hatred towards themselves. Survivors of trauma often wrestle with feelings of worthlessness, which can result in a cycle of anger that leads to self-abuse – often through consuming drugs and alcohol.

Chris Cordell*, Help Me Stop’s General Manager says “Many turn to drugs or alcohol as a solution to the pain of the past. This can, however only harm one’s present and future. Data published in TIME Magazine in 2019 indicates that 55 to 60 % of all post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) victims end up developing some form of substance use disorder. Identifying trauma-related substance abuse triggers is a key element of treatment and is fundamental to helping individuals as part of relapse prevention.”


Professional help

Many of the negative emotions and narratives we struggle with are borne of isolation. If we’re left alone without the reference of others, our repeated re-hashing of experiences and feelings can lead to a warped perspective of the self that is harmful and disconnected from reality. Left unchecked, these toxic notions can take ever greater hold, becoming stronger in time.

Therapy and rehabilitation help to stop this cycle and can begin the process of un-learning the harmful notions that often are programmed into the mind. Although your most deep-rooted feelings may never entirely disappear, the help of professionals can allow you to contextualise them and to live alongside them with less judgement towards yourself due to their presence.


A helping hand is a call away

You may be struggling at this very moment, be it through difficulty with anger, trauma or addiction itself. The Help Me Stop team would like to remind you that you’re welcome to get in touch at no obligation – even just to speak on the phone for a few minutes.

If you’d like to do so, please call us on 0208 191 8920. If you’d prefer email, you can reach us using our contact form or interactive chat. For details on our Digital Dayhab programme, please see this page of our website.  


*Chris is a senior associate member of the Royal Society of Medicine, Certified International Recovery Specialist, and a member of the International Society of Addiction Medicine.