The Connection Between Trauma and Addiction

Addiction is not a choice or a disease. It is not a sign of weakness, moral failure, lack of willpower, poor decision making, or a character flaw; nor is it an inherited brain disease.[1] Addictions are created as subconscious coping mechanisms in response to human suffering and trauma. This is not an opinion, it is supported by abundant science and literature. Unfortunately, however, society at large is unaware of this, and many blame and punish the addict for their addiction because of their own suffering, adding more trauma to an already traumatized individual, and further fueling the addiction., [2],[3]

Fortunately, there are respected doctors, specialists, and scientists speaking out about the undeniable link between trauma and addiction, one the most well-known and outspoken being author, trauma and addiction expert, Dr Gabor Maté. Dr Maté explains that most addictions are born of repetitive childhood trauma, and adopted as an attempt to escape unbearable pain and suffering. [4],[5] He adds that addictions are a form of self-medication, and develop when people have deep emotional problems and lack the means to solve them on their own. 

“Drugs and alcohol provide regulation for a traumatized nervous system, which once consumed could be the first time an individual feels safe or comfortable in their own body,” explains certified drug and alcohol counsellor, Breathworker, and founder of ‘Breathwork for Recovery,’ Nathaniel Hodder-Shipp, B.Msc, CADC-II, ICADC. “This relief is powerfully compelling and the drug user continues to seek it over and over again often ending in addiction”. [6]

Worth noting here is the fact that addictions don’t always come in the form of substance abuse such as drugs and alcohol; they can be behaviorial as well, some of the most common being: shopping, sex, gambling, video game playing, overeating, and media use. [7] While the connection between drug and alcohol addiction and trauma has been strongly established in medical literature, the connection between addictive behaviors requires more research. [8] However, logistically it makes sense that any type of addiction can be linked back to trauma. And according to Gabor Maté, “All addictions — alcohol or drugs, sex addiction or internet addiction, gambling or shopping — are attempts to regulate our internal emotional states because we’re not comfortable, and the discomfort originates in childhood.” [9]

Adding fuel to the addiction fire is that the brain shapes itself in response to the environment, and trauma impacts the autonomic nervous system in a way that makes a traumatized person more likely to find relief from addictive behaviors and substances. [10],[11], Perhaps not surprisingly given the above facts, studies show the level of substance use in addicts is strongly correlated with the level of abuse, trauma or adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s) that occured in childhood. [12],[13], In fact, people that have an ACE score of 6 or more (a rating scale that is from 1 to 10) are 4,600% more likely to be an IV drug user. [14]

Sadly, every point you have on the ACE scale increases your risk not only for addiction but also for chronic diseases, depression, domestic violence, anxiety, and poverty among other things (if interested, you can calculate your personal ACE score here). [15],[16], It’s important to note however that not all addictions are born of childhood trauma. Traumatic events at any time in life can lead to emotional dysregulation, brain circuitry and autonomic nervous system alterations, and the need to self-soothe with addictive substances or behaviors. [17]

In light of all of the above it becomes quite apparent that you can’t ‘cure’ addiction; and psychotherapy, meetings, and behavioral therapy are not the most efficacious approach on their own. In order to truly heal addiction and eliminate the compulsions towards the substance or activity, you need to first heal the trauma that is fueling it.

Breathwork For Addiction Recovery

Breathwork is a very powerful tool for addiction because it helps address the root cause – by facilitating the healing of trauma on many levels. In fact, Dr. Patricia Gerbarg’s research shows that regulated breathing can lead to measurable results in traumatized individuals and benefits occur even among cases that are resistant to other treatments, such as psychotherapy and psychoanalysis., [18],[19]

Breathwork is an important tool for reconnecting you to your body, your feelings, and your emotions, and trauma often forces you to disconnect from these in order to survive. Many breathers experience emotional breakthroughs during Breathwork and are able to release painful memories and feelings that they may have been subconsciously burying or numbing out through addiction for years. 

During Breathwork you gain access to the subconscious mind and can change self-sabotaging and negative subconscious addiction-fueling tracks which were programmed in childhood. Plus you gain access to the Body Archive (the body stores all your traumas and remembers them even when the mind forgets); and traumas that have been stored in the body can finally be released. Breathwork and breath practices also help regulate the nervous system and can restore much needed balance to a traumatized individual so that they are no longer stuck in the parasympathetic (freeze) response or the sympathetic (fight or flight) response.,  [20],[21]

Breathwork can also help by improving the underlying issues that fuel addiction (and are often born of trauma) – such as anxiety, depression, and feelings of being unloved, unworthy, ashamed, or alone. Plus, it restores essential feelings for wellness including bonding, forgiveness, meaningful connection, and self-love. [22]

In addition to all of the above, Breathwork is a natural source of euphoria and once an individual struggling with addiction realizes how good they can feel in their bodies without any destructive outside source, it can be completely game-changing for their recovery. [23] Last but certainly not least, Breathwork helps to reconnect a person to their life-force energy and to their inner wisdom, and this connection is a powerful ally in trauma and addiction recovery.  


The BRIDGE is a powerful therapeutic tool that AoB founder Anthony Abbagnano developed and fine tuned over 30 years. This tool rapidly restores wellbeing by working with the inner child and bringing fragmented parts of the self (which occur during trauma and adverse experiences) back into unity. The BRIDGE promotes healing without having to revisit the trauma by allowing the adult to reclaim contact, care and responsibility with the person that was once wounded, rather than focusing on the wound itself. Once the inner child is reclaimed, an ‘alliance’ can be designed, the conscious adult taking on the responsibility of protecting that part of themselves that was wounded by the trauma.

Closing Thoughts

While discussing this important topic with addiction expert and counsellor, and founder of Breathwork for Recovery® Nathaniel Hodder-Shipp, Nathaniel pointed out: “While breathwork can assist in healing the underlying issues often at the root of individual addiction, we as a society are also responsible for becoming better at treating it by addressing poverty, racism, colonization, and capitalism.” [24]

If you struggle with addiction, know that it is not your fault, you are not alone, and healing is possible. Know that there is light on the other side and you deserve to be happy and healthy. Breathwork can help heal the trauma that fuels addictions, however, it’s important that you work with a qualified Breathwork Facilitator who is trained in trauma. The BRIDGE can also be tremendously helpful and if you would like to heal with this tool, reach out to an AoB Master Facilitator.

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