What is a Trauma-Based Addiction Treatment Program?
Drug and alcohol abuse and addiction usually have many contributing factors. While everyone who becomes addicted to substances is different, there are some common underlying issues that apply to many individuals. One such issue that is closely related to substance abuse problems is past trauma, especially if those traumas occurred during childhood.
Trauma is typically defined as any stressful event that has a profound and lasting effect on someone. That’s the working definition that many psychologists and psychiatrists have worked with for a long time, but it’s only relatively recently that it’s begun to be applied by addiction professionals.
The Link between Trauma and Addiction
Traumatic events are incidents from any stage of life (childhood, adolescence, and adult) that are disturbing to an individual, and that overwhelms the ability to process the event in a healthy and productive way. These incidents can be one-time events, like an accident, natural disaster, act of violence, or sudden death in the family, or they can be long-term stressors, like ongoing sexual abuse, neglect, incarceration, war, or domestic violence. In either situation, the traumatic experience causes an individual to fear for their physical safety and question their psychological or emotional stability.
Trauma like this can lead to developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can result in anxiety, depression, memory loss, and confusion. Oftentimes, feelings of hopelessness, despair, and low self-esteem also accompany PTSD.
Other symptoms of PTSD include:
- Emotional detachment or numbness
- Intrusive memories of the incident, flashbacks
- Nightmares or night terrors
- Problems with concentration or focus
The symptoms are intrusive to a person’s daily life, often causing problems with work, school, and relationships. They are overwhelming and uncomfortable thoughts, emotions, and physical symptoms over which you have no control. That’s why many people experiencing PTSD turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate.
Self-medicating is an attempt to shut down those negative symptoms associated with PTSD. For many, people who have suffered trauma, drugs and alcohol provide a solution that makes the thoughts and pain of PTSD go away – at least for a while. It’s a coping skill that many people with PTSD or other mental health issues use to make it through their days.
That’s why it’s so important that drug and alcohol treatment programs, such as detox, outpatient, and inpatient, utilize a trauma-based addiction treatment approach.
What are the Components of Trauma-Based Addiction Treatment?
When treatment for people with PTSD who have addiction problems is approached through a trauma-based lens, it’s been found to be more effective and to have better long-term outcomes. The components of trauma-based treatment typically include:
- Individual and group therapy (usually cognitive behavioral therapy)
- Peer support groups
- Grief or loss therapy
- Desensitization or exposure therapy
- Pharmacotherapy (the use of medications to reduce symptoms)
- Teaching coping skills for emotional regulation and cognitive restructuring
- Holistic therapies, such as relaxation, mindfulness, meditation, etc.
The main goals of trauma-focused recovery are:
- To recognize the individual’s need to be informed, respected, and optimistic about recovery
- To identify the correlation between trauma and substance use and abuse
- To work together with loved ones of the individual and other appropriate agencies to promote resiliency and encourage empowerment
Inpatient Trauma-Based Addiction Treatment in Orange County, CA
When traumatic incidents happen to a person, there is significant stress and physical changes to the brain. As a result, innovative treatments for trauma have been developed that incorporate somatic (body centered) practices. Trauma-based treatment for addiction is an approach that incorporates those practices into traditional addiction treatment. Essentially, that means that treatment is approached with the understanding that there is a history of trauma, recognizing the symptoms of trauma that are present in the individual, and developing a treatment plan that addresses the underlying issues of trauma.
There are numerous types of treatment that can be used for individuals with the co-occurring disorders of addiction and trauma-related conditions like PTSD. Ultimately the goal is to recognize the extent of the trauma, identify triggers, and then establish coping skills to effectively deal with daily life. Some of the therapies associated with trauma are:
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy
- Experiential therapy
- Psychodrama therapy
- Breathwork therapy
- Brainspotting therapy
These are only some of the trauma-based therapies used to treat individuals who have co-occurring disorders. Trauma-focused treatment is just a therapy that is designed to aid the healing process for any individual who has experienced trauma.
Why Trauma-Based Addiction Treatment Works
Trauma-based treatment involves seeing and hearing the individual who has experienced trauma without judgment, which is something the person desperately needs. When trauma survivors also have drug and alcohol addiction, they need that on two levels – with regards to the trauma as well as their addiction. Many people in this situation have a very difficult time sharing their experience and their thoughts and emotions about it, and as a result, they don’t seek the treatment they need. There is a significant amount of shame that is common to most people living with co-occurring trauma and addiction and that can keep them from seeking out support.
– and the feeling that keeps them from seeking support – is shame. While this is not true for all people living with co-occurring trauma and addiction, it’s the one most people in treatment spend a great deal of time and energy overcoming.
Trauma-based treatment for drug and alcohol addiction means that those offering treatments for individuals who are living with co-occurring trauma and addiction have a thorough understanding of both. They must recognize the special obstacles trauma survivors face and honor their courage in asking and accepting help at their most vulnerable moments.
When individuals with a history of trauma seek treatment for substance abuse problems, knowing that their therapists and other professionals understand the significance of their trauma, it makes a huge difference in the outcome of their treatment. It means they can begin to rebuild their lives and learn effective and practical coping skills to help them break the cycle of addiction and manage their PTSD symptoms. It means a fulfilling and vibrant life in recovery is within their reach – and they can start working toward that life right away.
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