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How Physical Trauma Informs Addiction

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Physical and mental health are connected. A disruption of mental health can impact physical health and vice versa. Physical trauma is a type of trauma that seriously injures your body and can be incredibly stressful on both the body and mind. 

The impact on mental health due to physical trauma and the use of prescription drugs can both create an increased risk of addiction. Thus, it is important to consider the impact of physical trauma and how it may be related to a dual diagnosis and addiction overall. 

Physical Trauma and Mental Health 

The specifics of physical trauma and its impact are unique to each person and their situation. However, traumatic injury affects millions each year. Research has found an association between traumatic injury and multiple mental health disorders that include the following.


Around nine percent of those with a physical trauma were found to have an anxiety disorder twelve months after the incident. Injury occurrence is often considered a highly stressful event that impacts and overloads your system. Experiencing a highly stressful event is associated with the development of anxiety. 

More research is needed to better understand how physical trauma impacts specific anxiety disorders. However, trauma increases the risk of experiencing anxiety. This may look like flashbacks or nightmares about the incident. 


Loss is a part of life, and with physical trauma, there can be a feeling of loss regarding physical changes. Physical trauma can decrease a person’s ability to perform physical tasks in a way they were previously able to, either in the short-term or long-term. Greif, while often overwhelming, is a normal part of life. 

However, grief after trauma can be complicated. Normally, grief lessens over time, helping you to heal from a loss. However, after trauma, the normal grieving process can be disrupted. Instead of healing over time, feelings of anger, loneliness, or sadness can intensify. This can create a sense of feeling stuck in these emotions without a way to process the trauma and changes that have occurred due to physical trauma. 


After a physical trauma, there is commonly an effort to understand how the trauma occurred. This is a natural progression that helps you to feel like you can protect yourself in the future. However, this can be disrupted, leading to feelings of hopelessness or decreased self-esteem. Both are common symptoms of depression. 

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), “[P]hysical trauma can lead clients to see themselves as broken, incapable, or incompetent.” These thought processes can cause or increase commonly found depression symptoms after physical trauma. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Trauma does not always lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, when it does, it can significantly affect your overall mental health. 

Feeling fearful during or immediately after physical trauma is a normal and healthy response. However, when these feelings are persistent and interrupt normal function, they are categorized as PTSD. PTSD can occur in a variety of populations and situations, ranging from the sudden death of a loved one to an unexpected physical trauma. 

Mental Health and Addiction

Addiction and mental health are well-known co-occurring disorders. More than one in four adults living with serious mental health problems also have an issue with substance use. Due to the impact that physical trauma has on mental health, it can indirectly cause an increased risk of addiction. 

When you are dealing with depression, anxiety, grief, or PTSD, utilizing substances to dull or numb these feelings is a maladaptive coping mechanism. While you may not have had mental health issues before the trauma, the changes that occur after trauma may make you more at risk for substance abuse. 

Prescription Painkiller Usage and Addiction

Painkillers, usually opioids, are commonly prescribed to help decrease issues of pain caused by trauma. Opioids are a class of drugs that includes Vicodin, Codeine, Oxymorphone, fentanyl, and more. They are highly addictive and easily abused. 

While you may have a prescription for opioids or other painkillers, they can easily be used beyond how they are prescribed. For example, you may use more, in dosage or frequency, or past the length of time needed for pain. Eventually, physical dependency may occur, which can create a biological feedback loop to continue their usage of them regardless of the pain. 

With physical trauma, the combination of mental distress and physical pain can be challenging to recover from. It can be hard to see if you are slipping into addictive behaviors and misusing prescription drugs. Common signs include the following:

  • Taking prescription drugs to feel high 
  • Attempting to obtain more and more, such as multiple prescriptions or claiming to have lost your current prescription 
  • Hiding your usage from others
  • Agitation around questions regarding your prescription or medication 
  • Isolating and withdrawing from friends and family 

Many issues can occur due to opioid addiction, including an increase in mental health issues that may also be impacted by physical trauma, such as anxiety and depression. Thus, painkillers can be part of a cycle of addiction after physical trauma. 

Physical trauma, as indicated in the name, is an event that directly impacts our physical health. However, there can be a direct impact on mental health due to physical trauma. Depression, anxiety, PTSD, and extended grief commonly occur after physical trauma. Combined with the potential increase in prescription painkillers, physical trauma increases the risk of addiction. At Pacific Sands Recovery Center, we provide individualized treatment that takes your preferences, needs, and history into account. We offer dual diagnosis treatment to address mental health disorders, regardless of cause, and addiction. Call us today at (949) 426-7962 to find out how our programs can help you solve underlying issues that may contribute to addiction. 


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