Trauma: A Core Focus
Ocean Recovery deals with the fallout of trauma every day. As we’ve pointed out many times in these pages, trauma is often at the heart of mental health disorders, such as substance use and eating disorders. In fact, we focus extensively on trauma in both our women’s and men’s programs. A recent article by Bustle talks a bit about some of the physical changes in the brain that trauma can cause. The piece examines some very recent worldwide studies and we will take a look at some of the results here.
The Amygdala’s Effects on the Brain and Body
The article quotes neurologist Dr. Sanam Hafeez as saying, “A person who has experienced intense psychological trauma is likely to have an amygdala that is hyperactive”. The amygdala plays a primary role in processing memory, decision-making, and emotional responses. These emotional responses include fear, anxiety, aggression, and the “fight-or-flight” response. A hyperactive amygdala will respond to triggers that are vaguely reminiscent of the original trauma by flooding the body with adrenaline and other hormones. Consequently, an individual is perpetually stressed and dealing with constant anxiety. It can also lead to physical changes in the brain in the form of an enlarged amygdala.
From the Amygdala to the Prefrontal Cortex
The prefrontal cortex, the region that plans complex cognitive tasks and moderates social behavior, also helps to regulate the amygdala. The article points to a 2015 study by Arnsten et al revealing that exposure to stress seriously impairs the executive functions of the prefrontal cortex. It can also reduce its number of firing neurons. Kira Vrendenburg of Sierra Tucson says that, “[t]his can lead to difficulty concentrating, zoning out or not feeling fully present, and feeling there is a block or disconnect between intellectually recognizing an emotion, or identifying the expected emotion in a certain situation, and actually being able to experience that emotion”.
The Hippocampus: Highly Susceptible to Damage
Finally, Bustle mentions a 2020 Nature Communications study. It found that trauma strengthens the links between the amygdala and the hippocampus. The hippocampus plays a major role in learning and memory and is highly susceptible to damage. The study found that the fear messages associated with traumatic experiences become deeply embedded. Even if the person can’t actively remember what happened, the brain still retains a clear picture. Dr. Hafeez also points out that, “[s]ome people with post-traumatic stress disorder may actually have smaller hippocampuses, due to damage from constant anxiety and stress.”
Real Courage Means Asking for Help
Ocean Recovery has been successfully substance abuse and eating disorder treatment programs since 2002. And this includes treating trauma and its effects on the brain. At our facilities in sunny Newport Beach, California, we have helped hundreds of men and women heal from their difficult pasts and go on to live happy, contented lives. If you or someone you know is suffering, please consider giving Ocean Recovery a call today. Real courage means asking for help. Ocean Recovery is ready to answer.