The histories of psychology and science traditionally drew on male experiences to create treatments for patients suffering from substance abuse. Given the societal progress made in the past few decades, female addiction treatment now has its own branch in psychological fields.
Experts should learn more about the connection between trauma and addiction in women to discover why it relates more closely to female cases and how it can point to better treatment methods.
How trauma causes addiction in women
People generally think of war when they imagine someone suffering from trauma. Although it’s traumatic to fear for your life on the battlefield, trauma doesn’t have just one definition. It can also come from physical, verbal, and emotional abuse. The primary definition is that it is a psychological response to stressful events, even if the event is short-lived.
It’s can also affect people who aren’t the direct victims of a lived experience. People who see someone suffering, witness neglect, or watch harm occur in real-time can also walk away with trauma that takes a lifetime to unpack.
In both of these experiences, the brain saves these things and can leave emotional scars in the form of stress, anxiety, depression, or PTSD. Addictions then become the solution to easing a person’s symptoms or hiding from the painful start of their healing journey. It’s how trauma causes addiction in women, but the finer connections appear in recent research.
Research reveals the connections
Experts supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) recently found that out of the 343 participants in their study on trauma and addiction in women, 9 out of 10 women reported experiencing trauma as a child, such as sexual or emotional abuse. They found that addictive substances calmed the symptoms stemming from those experiences and created the neuropathways of their addictions at an early age.
Domestic violence also directly affects women with addictions. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in the US, 25% of women in intimate partner relationships will live through domestic violence at the hands of their partners. The recent pandemic exacerbated domestic violence shelter calls by 300% as well.
Women who experience these types of trauma and others are twice as likely to develop a major depressive disorder from their post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The same mental health effects occur for transgender women who suffer trauma, resulting in 18.5% of trans women experimenting with drugs by the age of 15.
Trauma and addiction in women are interconnected. It’s impossible to find the best solutions without considering both for new patients. Understanding these connections more fully can result in more effective treatment for those who seek help.
Treatments for trauma and addiction in women
There isn’t one distinct form of trauma, so experts can’t rely on a singular addiction treatment method for women. Instead, they should identify the root causes of the addictions to more directly treat the main problem. If the core problem in a woman’s trauma is feeling ungrounded in her reality, seeking therapy can help them heal by focusing on the present and avoiding reliving painful memories.
Other patients may recover more fully with eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR), guided imagery, or hypnotherapy because these treatments calm the patient’s emotional centre. When a person feels grounded and calm, they can put their energy into healing alongside a professional instead of drowning the feelings in addictive substances.
Learning more provides a path forward
Psychologists should learn how trauma causes addiction in women to better understand how addictions begin in specific patients. Creating a unique treatment plan will benefit patients more quickly and have lasting positive results that empower women to live better lives.
Ginger Abbot has written for The National Alliance for Mental Illness, HerCampus, Motherly and more. When she’s not freelancing, she works as chief editor for the learning publication Classrooms, where you can read more of her work.