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Trauma and Addiction Recovery

Traumatic events can change the way an individual views the world and themselves. If someone isn’t sure how to process their trauma, they may use unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drugs or alcohol to self-medicate unpleasant emotions. It’s not uncommon for individuals with trauma to struggle with addiction. This is why treating mental health and substance abuse simultaneously is an effective method for trauma and addiction recovery.

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Understanding Trauma

Trauma is an emotional response to a distressing situation. Most people experience the occasional hardship, but a traumatic event tends to be sudden or unpredictable and typically involves a serious bodily threat or injury. It can often make someone feel unsafe and as if they’ve lost control over their life. People may turn to substances to self-medicate these feelings, which is why understanding the effects of trauma is crucial to overcoming addiction.

Types of Trauma


Trauma can be either a singular event or repeated exposure to a traumatic situation. Common types of trauma include:

    • Physical assault
    • Sexual assault or rape
    • Domestic violence
    • Childhood abuse or neglect
    • Natural disasters
    • Bullying or ongoing harassment
    • Car accidents
How Does Trauma Impact the Brain and Behavior?


Traumatic stress is associated with lasting changes in several brain areas, including the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. It can also cause increased norepinephrine and cortisol responses to stress, which is often seen in individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD can cause several physical and psychological symptoms, including intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, sleep disturbances, and changes in memory or concentration.


Common Symptoms of Trauma


    • Ongoing fear, nervousness, or anxiety
    • Numbness
    • Dissociation
    • Erratic behavior
    • Lack of confidence
    • Fatigue
    • Depression
    • Avoidance of emotions
    • Continuously reliving the event
    • Romantic and social relationship problems
    • Prolonged agitation or irritability
    • Nightmares
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Addiction and Trauma

Research suggests a strong link between trauma and addiction. Trauma-related disorders and substance use disorders often occur simultaneously and can cause major problems for the affected individual.

How Does Trauma Contribute to Addiction?


Using drugs or alcohol can provide temporary relief for individuals suffering from trauma. Substances may be used to ward against horrific memories or help with sleep problems caused by nightmares or hyperarousal. While a person may not have harmful intentions, abusing substances this way can quickly spiral into addiction.

What Is the Cycle of Addiction and Trauma?


People who abuse drugs are more likely to experience traumatic events than those who don’t. Since experiencing a traumatic event can increase a person’s likelihood of using drugs or alcohol, this can create a vicious cycle where someone is constantly exposed to new trauma and therefore keeps increasing their substance use. This cycle can create major life problems, such as difficulties with working or maintaining relationships.

How Does Addiction Affect Trauma Recovery?


Addiction and trauma often feed off each other, making the cycle difficult to break. Addressing addiction during treatment is just as important as coming to terms with a traumatic event. Without treating both conditions, an individual may be at risk of relapsing and starting the cycle all over again, making it impossible to fully move on.

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Trauma-Focused Approaches to Addiction Recovery

What Is Trauma-Informed Care?


Trauma-informed care is a type of dual diagnosis treatment that addresses trauma and addiction simultaneously, revealing how the conditions impact each other. Individuals have access to various services to process their trauma and address the root cause of addiction in a productive and effective way. Trauma-focused care is designed to promote self-discovery and empowerment to help people feel more in control of their emotions and actions.

Benefits of Trauma-Focused Therapy for Addiction Recovery


    • Reduces trauma symptoms or triggers that may influence substance use
    • Reconfigures traumatic experiences to help the individual make sense of them
Examples of Trauma-Informed Approaches


Various treatment options are available that promote a successful trauma and addiction recovery, including:

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Treatment for Trauma Addiction

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)


CBT is a form of talk therapy focused on helping individuals see the world and how they behave in it. It works by challenging negative beliefs and teaching individuals new coping skills to replace harmful actions. CBT has proven to be effective for many conditions, including PTSD and addiction.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)


EMDR uses rapid eye movements to stimulate the brain’s right and left hemispheres, prompting someone to relive unresolved memories and process them more effectively. Often, these unresolved issues are the cause of addiction. By tackling them, an individual can heal from their trauma and addiction simultaneously.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)


DBT is used to treat numerous disorders, including addiction. It works by helping someone understand the root cause of their addiction and develop new ways of thinking and behaving. This can reduce self-destructive behaviors, such as using drugs or alcohol, and teach individuals new mental health coping strategies.

Group Therapy and Support Groups


Group therapy is a type of counseling where small groups meet weekly or as needed to discuss their mental health or substance abuse problems. It’s led by a therapist and gives individuals the chance to receive feedback from others and develop new perspectives on their issues.

Support groups are similar but typically less structured. In both cases, individuals are usually grouped with others sharing similar experiences, which can help people feel less alone and more willing to open up about their struggles.

Self-Care Strategies


    • Exercise and physical activity: Physical fitness, such as yoga or group exercise classes, can boost self-esteem and lead to healthier habits when feeling stressed.
    • Mindfulness and meditation: Practicing mindfulness and meditation can help individuals become more focused, increasing their ability to cope with difficult trauma-related emotions.
    • Art therapy: Creating art provides people with an expressive and abstract method of processing what happened to them to gain greater insight about themselves and their trauma.

Nutrition and healthy lifestyle habits: A healthy diet can reduce the risk of depression and other unpleasant emotions, influencing healthier routines that don’t involve drugs or alcoho

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Learn More About Trauma-Focused Therapy at Beachway

Overcoming addiction and trauma can be difficult to do alone, but help is available. Beachway Therapy Center specializes in mental health, addiction, and dual diagnosis treatment and offers several programs, including outpatient and inpatient treatment to address each patient’s needs. To learn more about trauma track treatment, contact Beachway today and take the first step toward trauma and addiction recovery.