Trauma and Addiction 2018-02-23T20:01:22+00:00

Trauma and Addiction: How Both Are Treated Together

It’s unfortunate, but trauma often comes hand in hand with addiction. Those who have experienced a traumatic event are more likely to turn to drugs to cope. Substance use can lead to dependence and tolerance.

Women are particularly susceptible to developing an addiction due to trauma. 80% of women seeking addiction treatment have a history of trauma or abuse. That’s quite a strong correlation between the two.

This doesn’t only apply to adults. 70% of adolescents involved in a drug or alcohol abuse treatment program had a history of trauma and abuse as well. Teens involved with trauma were much more likely to try different drugs, and to drink alcohol. Misuse of drugs and alcohol quickly spiraled into addictive behaviors.

Since trauma and addiction come hand-in-hand, they should be treated together. Treatment programs that look at the effects of both of these factors tend to be more effective. They not only treat the addiction, but also improve the user’s quality of life. They will learn how to deal with their trauma in a healthy and responsible way.

Why Trauma and Addiction Is Often Connected

Trauma and addiction seem like an unlikely pair, so why are they connected?

trauma and addiction treatment

There are several working theories. However, the most plausible theory is that the two play off of one another. Many people rely on illicit substances to cope after trauma. The illicit substances may help them better manage stress.

By turning to drugs and alcohol, they can flood their bodies with a fake sense of euphoria. Other drugs help to numb the senses.

On the other hand, substance abuse may increase the likelihood that a person may experience trauma. After all, many illicit substances compromise cognitive abilities. Several studies have shown that 25% to 76% of teens that were exposed to trauma would start to use drugs. 14% to 59% of teens with PTSD also relied on drugs to cope with their stress and depression. The drugs are believe to put them In a worse off situation that further encourage drug or alcohol use.

Those who turn to drugs and alcohol are also more likely to engage in risky behavior. The drugs and alcohol lower their inhibitions. This causes these people to be at a higher risk for experiencing trauma.

Traumatic experiences overwhelm the brain. When a person goes through a traumatic event, there are certain neurological changes. These effects on the brain can cause someone to be more likely to abuse illicit substances.

After trauma, the amygdala will become overactive. It will easily start to assess everything as a threat. As a result, those who go through a traumatic event often feel fearful, anxious and vulnerable. They don’t feel safe even when they’re in the comfort of their own home.

Another part of the brain that’s affected is the hippocampus. This part of the brain processes memories. Trauma causes this part of the brain to become less active. As a result, traumatic experiences are often experienced over and over again. To many people, it feels as if they are stuck on a loop.

Cognitive processing abilities are also reduced by trauma’s effect on the cortex. It is much more difficult for traumatized people to overrule illogical thoughts. It makes a person much more impulsive. This impulse can lead to drug and alcohol abuse.

This added strain on the brain can be overwhelming. Illicit drugs help relieve this stress. It helps to ease fearful sensations, and create euphoric ones. Over time, many users will rely on illicit drugs and alcohol to deal with trauma. Trauma can also activate survival-oriented behaviors that may lead to substance misuse and abuse.

The Definition of Trauma

So, what exactly is trauma? Is it just any bad experience?

The diagnostic criteria for trauma are any experiences that are distressing or disturbing. This means that there are a wide range of events and situations that can be considered traumatic.

Just because something isn’t traumatic to you, it doesn’t mean that it’s not traumatic to someone else. Whether a situation is traumatic or not is based on the individual. Some people are more likely to get stressed out than others by certain situations.

For example, some people would consider a divorce to be traumatic. Others may not feel as strongly. While they may feel sad or depressed about a divorce, they would not consider it to be a traumatic experience. In fact, they might only see it as a mild inconvenience.

There’s more than one type of trauma. While some involve physical abuse, others involve emotional abuse. Trauma can come in many different forms.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, common traumatic events include:

  • Being bullied at school
  • Divorce or separation
  • Emotional abuse
  • Military trauma
  • Neglect
  • Physical abuse or assault
  • Serious accidents or illnesses
  • Sexual abuse or assault
  • Witnessing violent events, like domestic abuse

These risk factors are more likely to affect women than men. In fact, women who struggle with an addiction are more likely to have experienced childhood trauma. This can be anything from physical abuse to neglect to sexual abuse.

The devastating effects of childhood traumatic events can last past adulthood. This is especially true for those who have never dealt with their trauma in their life. Those who try to suppress traumatic events are most vulnerable. They have yet to process their emotions.

While it can be difficult to determine what’s traumatic and what’s not, it’s easy to recognize trauma. Traumatized individuals exhibit psychological and emotional symptoms like:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Denial
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Disbelief
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Self-blame
  • Shame
  • Shock

Those who have seen a traumatic event will also tend to withdraw from others. They may also feel depressed and sad more often than not, and not feel like socializing.

Physical symptoms will also appear after traumatic events. These symptoms are much easier to spot. Common physical symptoms include:

  • Aches and pain
  • Being started easily
  • Fast heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Having difficulties concentrating
  • Insomnia or nightmares
  • Mood swings, especially agitation
  • Muscle tension 

These symptoms can last anywhere from several days to several months. It takes time for the brain to process what happened. The brain also needs time to figure out your emotions.

Types of Therapies Used to Treat Trauma and Addiction Together

Research has shown that treating addictions and trauma together is much more effective. You’ll get better results, and you’re more likely to get over both issues at once.

Those who treat both addictions and trauma together are less likely to relapse. They’ll also be at a better mental place. By being in a better mental place, addicts are more likely to stay motivated. They’ll also learn how to use certain tactics to avoid triggers. In short, they’ll get more bang for their buck.

With that said, there are many treatment plans that are designed specifically for dealing with trauma and addictions. These programs tend to be a bit longer.

The first 30 days is used to detox and to break free from withdrawal symptoms.

The second 30 days is used for trauma treatment. There are quite a few different therapies used to treat both addiction and trauma. All have their own unique benefits and strengths.

Take a look at some of the most popular and common options below.

Trauma Release Exercises (TRE)

Trauma Release Exercises are often performed during counselling or therapy. After talking about traumatic events, patients are encouraged to perform a series of exercises. These exercises activate a natural reflex mechanism to help release muscular tension. This helps to loosen up the body.

This method was first designed by observing soldiers in war zones. Whenever soldiers saw a traumatic event, their body would contract and shake. It was an automatic response, and something that was happening naturally. The soldiers were even unaware of this phenomenon.

Dr. David Berceli realized that the shaking was caused by stimulations to the sympathetic nervous system. That’s your flight or fight reflexes. To deal with the stress, the brain releases certain chemicals to help the body flee or fight.

If this energy is not released, it stays in the body. This can manifest as a symptom of trauma, and can cause a cascade of other symptoms to appear. TRE helps to relieve this tension in the body. When coupled with addiction treatment, it keeps patients sober and relaxed.

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)

Often, traumatic triggers cause an addict to use illicit substances again. Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy will help patients identify their triggers. These triggers often cause them to go on autopilot and use drugs again.

The triggers may also cause the user to crave drugs or alcohol. It’s important to substitute the harmful responses to triggers with healthy ones. For example, instead of picking up a bottle when feeling stressed, jog around the block. Poor habits are replaced with self-care habits.

Components of TF-CBT

TF-CBT is normally practiced over several sessions. It is designed to educate the addict, family members and friends on the impact of trauma. This treatment option is especially popular among children.

Parents will learn how to handle their children’s emotions and behaviors. Both parties also learn how to relax, better manage stress and cope with their emotions.

TF-CBT can help reduce the following symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Avoidance of certain situations
  • Behavioral problems
  • Difficulties in concentrating
  • Emotional numbing
  • Sexual behaviors
  • Trauma-related shame
  • Upsetting memories and thoughts

One-on-One or Group Therapy

Sometimes, the only thing that patients need is someone to talk to. One-on-one or group therapy sessions help patients explore past events and process them. Most drug and alcohol rehab centers recommend trying one-on-one or group therapies even if you don’t struggle with trauma.

In one-on-one therapy sessions, patients tend to feel more comfortable disclosing private details. For example, if someone was raped as a child, they are much more likely to talk about their experience in one-on-one therapy.

On the other hand, group therapy is great for those who are seeking support from others. During group therapy, several people sit down together to discuss their issues. They share their experiences with one another, so they don’t feel as alone.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy was first practiced in 1989. It was developed by Francine Shapiro, and is still used till this day to treat:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • Other mental disorders

It’s difficult to explain exactly how the therapy works. To make it as simple as possible, it basically tries to use rapid eye movements to alter past memories. This technique is supposed to help retrain the brain, so that it processes trauma in a different manner.

Patients interested in EMDR will need to complete all eight phases to see results. Each phase is practiced in several therapy sessions until the patients get it right.

The Basics of EMDR

To practice EMDR, patients focus on an object that is several inches away from their face. The object is then moved back and forth. If done correctly, this should cause the patient to undergo rapid eye movements.

Once this happens, the therapists guide the patients through a mental process. During this mental process, patients can recall traumatic experiences. They can then replace these bitter memories and experiences with empowering ones.

Seek Help for Addiction and Trauma

Trauma and addictions are co-occurring disorders. They often come hand-in-hand. Those who are addicted frequently suffer from some type of traumatic experience. Traumatized individuals are more likely to use illicit substances and alcohol. This pertains to both adults and teenagers.

Those who struggle with both addictions and trauma should treat both simultaneously. This is the best way to get effective results. By retraining your brain to deal with trauma differently, you also train it to be better equipped for addictions. It’s a win-win situation.

To get more information, contact one of our counsellors. We’ll be able to give you more insight on how trauma causes addiction, as well as the other way around. We’ll help you understand the importance of treating both at the same time.

With the resources that we provide you, you’ll be able to make an informed decision. You’ll have the knowledge needed to take part in customizing your treatment plan, so that it works for you.