Asana Recovery

How Drug and Alcohol Abuse can Lead to Dissociation

In order to cope with physical and emotional pain, we learn ways to dissociate.  This disorder gets people through the difficult times, but it can be a problem unto itself. Learn how alcohol can cause dissociation.

What is Dissociation?

Dissociation is a very common response to a traumatic experience and can continue to occur for years after the trauma has ended.  When a person experiences unbearable physical and emotional pain, their brain goes into a protective mode where it detaches from what is happening at that time. They may feel as if they are watching the experience happen to them or completely blackout during the traumatic moment. A person’s survival instincts kick in to create distance from the trauma.

After the traumatic experience has occurred, some people will turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope.  Ultimately these behaviors provide the person the ability to distance themselves from the painful experience.  

Common Ways to Develop Dissociation

Dissociation presents in three common ways

  1.  Sometimes people won’t remember critical pieces of an event or a length of time.  Some may have no recollection of certain years in their life.
  2. Experiencing blackouts, where someone has no memory of how they got there are where they are.  
  3.  Feeling foggy, as if you are viewing the world through a fishbowl.

Dissociation is a defense mechanism that allows a person under stress to disconnect from the normal flow of consciousness.  At times our brain compartmentalizes trauma so well that it feels like it happened to someone else.

Why Trauma Leads to Substance Abuse

Trauma at a young age can lead to self- soothing through the use of substances, or other addictive behaviors.  Growing up in a household where alcohol abuse and addiction was present, can be traumatic in itself. Studies show that alcohol addiction can lead to additional trauma, which can create new or continued episodes of dissociation.

What can become troublesome is when our brains, react in the same way in response to something that triggers a person to recall the traumatic event.  For example, a person may hear a song or be in a large group of people, or anything else that reminds them of the trauma. While they may know they’re not at risk or in danger,  the survival area of the brain is reminded of the traumatic event and reacts.

The decision to dissociate is not a conscious one.  Sometimes, it’s the only way our mind knows how to get the through the painful experience. It’s the ability to work through the hard times the best and safest way we know how.  That is why it’s so important to work on uncovering the original trauma and remedy the addiction that has formed to try to stifle the problem.

Is There Help For Dissociative Disorders and Addiction?

There are many types of treatments available for dissociation, and many of them coincide with services for the treatment of alcohol and drug abuse.

According to the Mayo Clinic, psychotherapy is the best method for treating these types of issues. Keep in mind that both, addiction and dissociative disorder, are chronic conditions that can reoccur. One should seek the help a treatment facility that understands the complexities of your situation.  

At Asana Recovery, we understand how important it is to treat the whole person, not just the symptoms of addiction, through the use of evidence-based therapies.