Trauma’s Effect on the Brain

A traumatic experience can affect more than just your emotions and mood. It can also affect your brain.

The occurrence of such traumatic events as

  • childhood abuse or neglect
  • witnessing a violent event
  • the sudden death of someone close to you

can have lasting effects on areas of the brain involved in memory and emotion.

The stress of a traumatic event can have an effect on the hippocampus, amygdala and prefrontal cortex. This can negatively affect a person’s behaviors, leading to depression, anxiety, or a problem with drug or alcohol addiction.
Here are some ways traumatic events affect your brain:


The occurrence of a traumatic event can cause you to have an adverse reaction when seeing, hearing, tasting or touching certain things that may trigger the event. Your senses are controlled by the amygdala, and certain stimuli that activate this area of your brain can result in an emotional response that may have been suppressed.


A traumatic event typically creates stress, causing the brain to release higher levels of cortisol and have a negative effect on the hippocampus. The hippocampus controls the conversion of short-term memories into long-term memories. As a protective mechanism, the brain may not store trauma in your long-term memory, causing lapses in your recollection of the traumatic event or events surrounding it.


Personality is also controlled by the amygdala. Traumatic stress can cause the amygdala to increase its function, resulting in you developing a persistent fear of something associated with your trauma.

Other Effects of Trauma

A traumatic event can have a number of other effects on a person’s brain and behaviors, including the following:
Decreased concentration

  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Avoidance
  • Problems sleeping
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Substance abuse
  • Amnesia
  • Dissociation
  • Eating disorders
  • Suicidality

Treating Trauma

While many of trauma’s effects on the brain cannot be reversed, through the right type of trauma treatment, many can be addressed and worked through.
Through talk therapy, people who have experienced trauma can work to uncover any suppressed memories, address the negative emotions associated with their trauma and find productive ways to cope with their trauma. The work done during therapy can have a significant and positive effect on how people who have experienced trauma view themselves and their surroundings.

For people who have developed depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, or a drug or alcohol addiction as a result of or in addition to their trauma, a residential treatment center can help them work through these problems. At a residential treatment center, a nurturing team of therapists, medical professionals and other caring staff will help you look at the effect trauma has had on your life and its involvement in any co-occurring disorders.
The effects of trauma can be serious, but they don’t have to permanently change your life. Getting the appropriate treatment can go a long way toward working through any trauma and getting your life (and brain) back on track.

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