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Unresolved Trauma: What You Need to Know

May 20, 2021

Experiencing trauma, at any time in life, doesn’t mean you remember it. If it wasn’t diagnosed and treated, it may still be affecting you years or decades later. This is what’s called unresolved trauma, and it may be playing a role in substance use by you or someone you care about. Today, let’s talk about what you need to know about unresolved trauma and its symptoms.

Unresolved trauma from childhood or adulthood can have a continuous impact on your physical and mental health for decades. It may show up as stress that gets confused as job-related. It can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attacks. Professionals with unresolved trauma may begin using drugs or alcohol to cope with feelings of powerlessness created by a traumatic event. Trust issues at work and in your personal life can be connected to past trauma, too. Trauma-informed care can be part of a comprehensive program for dual diagnosis treatment of substance use and mental health disorders.

If you or a loved one need help, call our admissions team today at 561-270-1753.

Unresolved trauma doesn’t have an automatic expiration date.

It doesn’t matter who you are or when you experienced your last traumatic event. There’s no magic date where its impact on you ends. If it remains unresolved, it can take a toll on you physically and mentally for decades. You don’t even need to be consciously aware of the traumatic experience either. It may have occurred at an early age. You may have worked to block it out. You may replay it over and over in your mind. No matter your response to it on your own, there’s no half-life to measure—and no end date in sight.

Unresolved trauma can show up disguised as stress.

Working in a high-profile career or a position of leadership comes with stress. You may normalize the stress as part of the job. Stress management becomes an effective tool at responding to job and career stress. But, when your strategies don’t seem to work, the source of the stress might need a closer look. You may find yourself constantly under stress and feeling a sense of burnout. This prolonged stress might have deeper roots than the current work demands. You may overreact to situations, seeing demands or conflict as greater threats to you personally.

Unresolved trauma affects you physically.

Signs that trauma is affecting your health and wellness can show up in a variety of symptoms. High blood pressure, stroke, and heart attacks are among them. The sense of burnout mentioned above can be created when your body is constantly running on adrenaline and feels unable to rest and recharge. Your energy level can drop. You may feel exhausted before the day is even over and yet struggle to get adequate sleep at night. Weight gain from stress connected to unresolved trauma can be a problem, too. Every time your body is flooded with adrenaline and cortisol from a stressful episode, your blood sugar can spike. This can cause harm to organs, nerves, and blood vessels over time, especially if you’re diabetic.

Unresolved trauma can create trust issues.

Trust is an essential part of building your career and growing personal relationships. A longstanding lack of trust may appear in people who suffered trauma earlier in life. They may not trust authority figures if that’s where the trauma originated. They may look for the worst in others and remain emotionally detached from people in their lives. They have trouble maintaining partnerships long-term or struggle with identifying people to delegate important responsibilities to at work. The trust issues from trauma can follow them into intimate relationships, too, where trust is necessary to develop a secure, stable, and loving connection. When trust issues lead to break-ups, they may place the responsibility on others if they are unable to recognize trauma as a recurring factor.

Unresolved trauma can lead to substance use disorders.

Trauma’s ability to affect physical and mental health makes it a risk for substance use disorders for people who are trying to cope with feelings they don’t fully understand. They may turn to drugs or alcohol as a first response to a traumatic event to help them forget it or ease the pain of it. Over time, use of substances may become routine. In high-pressure careers, drinking or drug use might turn into a daily ritual in response to the feelings connected to the trauma. It may feel like the only thing they can control is what they consume. When professionals reach this point, health risks and potential career sabotage become even more threatening. Getting into a treatment program for substance use with trauma-informed care is recommended. In a private setting, professionals can begin addressing their traumatic pasts directly and learn healthy strategies for coping with their feelings.


Headwaters is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 561-270-1753.

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