The Impact of Trauma Bonding on Recovery

Trauma bonding refers to people’s involvement in toxic relationships that are hard to break from. A trauma bond can feel stronger and more intense than typical human bonds, but it is often defined by trauma and abuse. The reason why they can be addictive is that a person might become invested in a toxic relationship that offers particular affirmation and satisfaction. 

Breaking a trauma bond can create similar effects to withdrawing from drugs and alcohol. The pain of separating oneself from a toxic relationship can be overwhelming. Some might even say that trauma bonds are the drugs that make abuse feel like love. Indeed, it is a kind of “love addiction.” Often, trauma bonding sometimes is a co-occurring condition with substance use disorder (SUD). Understanding how trauma bonding works can educate you on how to treat both.

Identifying Trauma Bonding 

Toxic relationships are not hard to spot, but trauma bonding can be. If a person feels a strong sense of attachment, belonging, and feeling wanted despite evidence of trauma and abuse, they live with an addictive trauma bond. People around this individual need to help identify their feelings and the nature of this addictive relationship. One strategy is to encourage this person to write down what is being fulfilled in this relationship. You can also use a few questions to test if the relationship is toxic:

  • If the same relationship dynamic happens to a loved one, does it look abnormal and toxic?
  • Would you wish a friend or family member to be in the same kind of relationship as yours?
  • Do you tend to defend why you are in this relationship to concerned family members?
  • Does the way this person treats you remind you of a toxic parent or caregiver?

Usually, someone who has a trauma bond wants to fix things in the relationship, but the fix is often temporary. A time of revelation comes when the abnormal cycle of this toxic relationship is known to this person. They might feel a momentary relief and freedom, but confusion and longing would soon follow, triggering their return to the abuser. It is essential to let the survivor have self-awareness of this cycle perpetuating pain and bondage. 

Like addiction in the form of substance use, addictive relationships also encourage denialism. Encouraging honesty and truth-telling is the key. Point out that the relationship is not only unfulfilling but damaging and destructive to one’s self-esteem and mental health. There is no way to keep this relationship. One needs a radical detox treatment by abstaining from it completely. 

When Trauma Bonding Co-occurs with Substance Addiction 

Substance addiction can also create relationships that promise trauma bonding. This is one of the reasons why relapses happen—even if a person can quit drugs, it is more challenging to leave some toxic relationships that reinforce their use of drugs and alcohol. Likewise, some people have suffered such psychological manipulation and abuse under narcissists that they resort to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. 

People might form the cycle of trauma bonding and substance addiction in different ways, but the result is the same. The danger with these two conditions co-occurring is that both tend to reinforce the same brain chemicals and neurological pathways that make it difficult to quit either one. 

This co-occurrence may have begun with abuse and neglect in the first place. Such traumatic experiences tend to keep a person gravitating towards addictive things, including substances and relationships. The chronic use of drugs and alcohol may also connect a person with more toxic relationships, such as co-using peers or partners. These complex relationships are founded on the commonality of using substances and toxicity. Quitting either one is exceptionally challenging.

How to Recover From Both Substance Addiction and Trauma Bonds

Recovery from both of these conditions requires overcoming attachment. While removing oneself from the presence of the substance and toxic relationships, you also need to rebuild healthy relationships that correct your perception of attachment and belonging. Healthy relationships have safe boundaries and offer safe bonds that respect your individuality and your needs. This system of healthy relationships can also support you through the recovery journey.

Bonding with others in a healthy way might not come naturally to you, but there are many resources you can rely on to relearn these relationship skills. Doing this involves reinventing your self-image and breaking from negative thought patterns that distort attachments. You can also consider getting recovery coaching from trained interventionists. These individuals know the importance of healthy relationships for long-term recovery

Substance addiction and trauma bonding can create double challenges for one’s recovery. Many people relapse not only because their attachment to drugs and alcohol is hard to quit, but also because their attachment to toxic relationships remains unchanged. One needs to become socially healthy to overcome substance addiction. Eradicating both by using a holistic approach is critical. At South Florida Intervention, we understand the importance of treating both substance addiction and trauma bonding as co-occurring conditions. Over the past years, we have helped families with addictive teens, young professionals, and entrepreneurs overcome similar problems. We believe that effective recovery coaching and treatment can help you achieve the goal of recovery. As experienced interventionists, we are committed to providing you with first-class, customized services, including recovery coaching, parent coaching, sober escort service, and detailed case management. We also connect you with experienced experts in this area. To learn more, call us today at (202) 390-2273.