It is ok to take a step back and look behind yourself to learn how to overcome your past in a positive way. Let’s take a deeper look at the relationship between complex trauma and addiction.

What is complex trauma?

Complex trauma, as defined by Dr. Christine Courtois, is “a type of trauma that occurs repeatedly and cumulatively, usually over a period of time and within specific relationships and contexts.” Complex trauma is chronic. However, it is not an official specified disorder. There are no specific symptoms to look for nor is there a specific treatment available to make it go away.

Examples of complex trauma are physical or sexual violence, community violence, separation from family, witnessing domestic violence, etc.

Can complex trauma lead to addiction?

There is a connection between complex trauma and addiction. It is very common for individuals to use something that makes them feel good to counteract the pain they feel from complex trauma. For some, it’s a positive activity, for others not so much. In fact, it isn’t unusual for those dealing with complex trauma to turn to activities such as gambling, sex, alcohol, drugs, or even food. These act as a means of comforting the pain that has been buried deep within.

See, complex trauma is different than plain ol’ trauma. Many people seek therapy for healing after experiencing a traumatic event. However, complex trauma is reliving that trauma over and over for an extended period. In many instances, instead of the trauma being just an event that happens to the individual, the complex trauma becomes part of who that person is.

Individuals dealing with a history of complex trauma may:

  • have difficulty controlling their emotions and their anger.
  • hold ill feelings toward their aggressor that they cannot let go or they may even begin to internalize their abuser’s belief system.
  • have difficulty trusting others and keeping relationships.
  • participate in self-harm.
  • have low self-esteem or self-worth, thinking that they deserved the violence or abuse.

So, yes, complex trauma can lead to addiction as a means of coping with the pain. Unfortunately, it only numbs the pain – it doesn’t make it go away.

Addiction treatment with complex trauma – What to treat first?

In many cases, the behaviors that lead to the substance abuse stem from the complex trauma. Though, it is the addiction that must be treated first. Complex trauma is serious and can be deeply rooted in someone. Without a solidly clear mind and ability to focus, it is impossible for an individual to help heal the deep scars left by the trauma.

It is important to obtain a sober mind and strong coping skills to be able to tackle the pain.

Entering recovery

In recovery, you are learning to live again – without your addiction. You no longer have a substance to turn to when things get rough. That is why it is so important to learn how to handle life’s ups and downs, as well as daily living, in a positive manner.

Life is going to get rough. If you have suffered complex trauma, then you may know this more than anyone. But that is even more reason why you need to embrace these new skills. Many people who suffer from complex trauma begin to think that the trauma is part of who they are. Experiencing growth in self-esteem, self-confidence, self-reliance, etc. can lead to success in recovery. Empowerment is powerful.


Healing from past complex trauma and in leading a life of recovery from an addiction is possible with the help of a trauma therapy program. It is important to focus on yourself and maintain healthy habits. Here are a few ideas for successful healing from complex trauma while in recovery:

  • Develop a relationship with a therapist. As someone who has experienced complex trauma, this may be difficult, but it is very necessary. The trauma has taken years to infect your inner self, it will take some time to extract and overcome it, too.
  • Forgiveness. It is so important to let things go. When we hold things in or hold grudges against those who have hurt us in the past, we are only hurting ourselves. Even if not formally, forgive those who have hurt you. Practice this actively – you cannot heal without it.
  • Develop a support group. You will need people to turn to. As an addict in recovery, you will have built up a solid support system. However, make sure to have a team of individuals who know how to handle your situation – where you are coming from.
  • Find a healthy hobby. You learned to abuse a substance as a means of dealing with your complex trauma. Now, you need to learn a new, more positive activity to use as a means of dealing with it. Work with your therapist to learn skills to turn to.
  • Eat healthy. It is a proven fact that when we eat healthy, we feel healthy. This applies to both physically and mentally. Junk food and chemicals can cloud our minds and make us feel lousy. Make sure you include healthy veggies and fruits in your diet, as well as lean meats.
  • Exercise. Being physically fit makes us feel good and clears our mind. Make sure you are getting enough exercise daily.
  • Meditation. Learn meditation techniques to use as a coping skill. Meditation helps you learn how to focus on breathing while finding peace and calm in your mind. It is a great tool to have in your toolbox.

You are worth so much more than your past. Learning to overcome the complex trauma of your past can make your future brighter. Taking care of yourself, working with a therapist, and staying sober can help transform your scars into the beautiful masterpiece that you are