Understanding Paralysis In The Face Of Trauma And Temptation

man alone at bar

What causes an addict or alcoholic in recovery to pause at the sight of temptation? It is something that people who have never lived with drug and alcohol addiction on a chemically dependent level can’t understand. Addicts and alcoholics go through a lot of trauma in their addictions, due the addiction itself and trauma they face before. Addiction itself is a traumatic experience. Often, addiction is a manifestation of trauma- a self-inflicted, repetitive pain coupled with intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. Coping with trauma often leads to substance abuse to numb the pain, quiet the thoughts, and bring some relief. After everything that addicts and alcoholics go through, it is baffling to others that they would consider picking up a drink or drug again The way addiction rewires the brain creates a lack of regard for consequence. Yet, in the face of consequence like trauma and temptation, the brain enters a paralysis.

In the face of a threat- like encountering a traumatic situation such as sexual assault, or temptation like encountering an opportunity to use drugs and alcohol, there is a freeze. Despite months of treatment and therapy, building confidence and self-esteem, learning tools and techniques, there is a freeze. Some professionals refer to it as “victim paralysis”. During physical trauma, there is an inability to fight back. During temptation of substances, there is an inability to leave or say no. Acta Obstetricia Gynecologica Scandinavica published a study on a phenomenon they call “tonic immobility” which is the temporary paralysis experienced. Interestingly, the study found that the individuals most likely to experience the tonic immobility were also more likely to have experiences of mental illness symptoms afterward. PTSD and depression were likely to happen. Shame, guilt, and a toxic pressure to have acted differently, contributes to the development of symptoms of PTSD and depression which can, in turn, inspire more substance abuse, and further tonic immobility.

Coping with the experience of not being able to make a rational decision, fight back, stand up to what isn’t right, or act on better knowledge is devastating. After recovery, especially, it can feel like all of the effort and work was worth nothing. That isn’t true. The research proves that tonic immobility is a real life psychological phenomena that is normal.


Avalon By The Sea is one of Southern California’s only certified primary mental health treatment facilities providing dual diagnosis care for substance use disorders as well. Trauma deserves treatment so that you can heal your mind, your body, and your spirit in order to have a full and vivacious future. For a confidential assessment and more information, call us today: 888-958-7511

We will work with most out of network PPO policies

Call 888-835-8075 to verify your insurance benefits today!
Blue Cross Blue Shield
Health Net
Blue Of California