Trauma Might Not Have Much to Do With Addiction After All

Although it has often been theorized – and some studies have suggested – that traumatic life experiences are a cause of addiction, a new journal article reviews the literature and says the evidence that the two are connected is not very strong.

The research review found that only about a third of studies show a correlation between trauma and addiction; a clear majority show no relationship, and a few show a negative relationship.

In addition, the studies that show a relationship may be suspect because, among other things, they are subject to “recall bias” (there’s evidence that people who already have an addiction may imagine that a past trauma was worse than it was because they are looking for an explanation); there is often a gap of many years between the trauma and the onset of addiction; there’s a greater association with trauma for certain addictions (e.g., smoking) than for others (e.g., opioids); and very few studies address the possibility that both the trauma and the addiction may have been related to a third factor (such as socioeconomic disadvantages, conflicted relationships, or other brain disorders).

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