The consequences of an active and unchecked addictive disorder can be far reaching and devastatingly impactful as every aspect of an individual’s life becomes vulnerable to the effects of problematic substance use. Losses occur across the spectrum of daily life—in relationships, finances, physical health, mental and emotional stability, self-esteem, self-image, spirituality, motivation and confidence. The possibility of these types of significant loss increases with the progression of addiction. Furthermore, the cumulative effects of multiple losses and the grief that attends them can become overwhelming.
Addiction as Trauma
Trauma can be broadly defined as an overwhelming event that taxes one’s ability to cope. In every traumatic life event there is a profound sense of helplessness and powerlessness; the event, not the affected individual, is in control. Addictive illnesses create similar dynamics in the lives of those who have them. Compulsion and obsession, hallmark symptoms of addiction, become the driving forces of daily life. A sense of control and self-determination gives way in active addiction and the unmanageability of life becomes primary for the addicted.
Our culture values autonomy, success and achievement. Lifestyles involving problematic substance use and addiction, while supported in certain social settings, are marginal and negatively perceived in the culture at large. Individuals with addictive illnesses are often considered non-productive, untrustworthy and unreliable. This type of social stigma and negative stereotyping can severely impact reputation, social interactions, career, family and opportunities for achievement. Some, debilitated by addictive illness, are not able to fulfill their social roles as family member, employee, friend and neighbor. For them ‘social losses’ can result in isolation, rejection, shame, financial crisis, divorce, job loss and alienation which can be overwhelmingly profound.
There are many psychological issues caused by substance use that can greatly complicate daily life for those with an addictive disorder. Some experience substance-induced psychiatric conditions such as mood, anxiety and even psychotic disorders. Others have already existing conditions that are negatively affected by substance use. Any such issues can dramatically compound the consequences of addiction since overall functioning is even further compromised by concurrent psychiatric disorders.
Addiction treatment may become much more complicated when other disorders are caused by substance use or worsened by it. Sudden and severe disability can occur resulting in mental health crisis and even psychiatric emergencies. Some may require psychiatric hospitalization for safety and stabilization. Such episodes cause individuals to feel hopeless, overwhelmed, stigmatized and ashamed as they dramatically impact overall functioning, self-image, self-esteem, mood, mental abilities and behavior.
Other Addiction-Related Trauma
Substance disorders increase the risk of other traumatic events for both addicted individuals and their families. The likelihood of certain traumatic events increases for those who are addicted. Among these are accidents, domestic violence, incarceration, sexual assault, unwanted pregnancy, birth defects, poverty, homelessness, infectious disease and the removal of children by child protection agencies. Children who live with addicted adults are also at higher risk for trauma than children who do not. They are more likely to be exposed to domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse and neglect. They may be removed from their caregivers to live with relatives or enter foster care. Children raised in addicted homes are also prone to develop mental health problems such as chronic anxiety, depression, abandonment issues, unresolved grief and low self-esteem.