Treating Trauma and Addiction
Nobody just wakes up one day and decides to become an addict. Falling into the trap of addiction is a process. Often, the process begins with trauma. Faced with insecurity, we seek a sense of safety. We want to feel in control. We want to be able to let go of the hyper-vigilant, fearful state trauma leaves us in. Over half of people seeking treatment for addiction have experienced deep enough trauma to present symptoms. In some cases, people have full post-traumatic stress disorder from dramatic, life-threatening events.
In other cases, the trauma symptoms do not reach the level of PTSD. Simply witnessing parents engaged in substance abuse or domestic violence can leave children feeling permanently unsafe, even when they grow to be adults. Sexual, physical or emotional abuse leave psychic scars that can drive addictive behavior. Studies indicate that between one quarter and three-quarters of people who survive trauma develop issues related to alcohol abuse. Addiction counselors once believed that addicts needed to get clean for a few years before trying to address their difficult histories of trauma. But new research indicates treating trauma and addiction together delivers the best results.
Research Show Treating Trauma and Addiction Together Works
Co-occurring trauma and addiction are complex conditions. Recent studies have shown that treating these disorders simultaneously is the most effective approach. But it’s a fraught process, and a skilled guide is essential. The paradox of co-occurring trauma is that treating trauma is stressful. And stress can trigger a relapse for someone who has achieved abstinence. But people suffering from a combination of addiction and untreated trauma are rarely able to abstain for long.
A new study that conducted at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia suggests it is better not to wait. The study showed that an exposure therapy approach reduced the symptoms of PTSD without triggering a relapse or prompting clients to drop out of treatment.
The study did not validate the process of compelling addicts seeking recovery to re-enact trauma in group settings. In the exposure therapy process, therapists ensure that clients feel safe and in control. Therapists carefully calibrate exposure to painful memories so that patients do not feel helpless or overwhelmed. Therapists must be careful not to demand more confrontation than patients are prepared to handle.
Research directory Michael Farrell summarizes: “The exciting thing in my view is that [the study] supports people with drug and alcohol problems having access to other forms of psychological interventions, rather than being fobbed off and told to sort out their alcohol or drug problem first.” The study authors conclude that these “…findings challenge the widely held view that patients need to be abstinent before any trauma work, let alone prolonged exposure therapy, is commenced.”
Approaches to treating trauma and addiction
As is the case with addiction therapy in general, there are several approaches to treating trauma and addiction. The most effective mix varies from patient to patient, but all of these approaches offer benefits. Grief counseling or similar approaches to coming to terms with traumatic past events help addicts develop some degree of understanding and closure for a painful history.
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps addicts recognize the limiting and distorted thought patterns that arise from trauma and replace old harmful beliefs with new healthier ones and then practice acting on those beliefs. Peer support groups help reinforce the notion that we are not alone, and it is ok to go through having these complex feelings. Holistic therapy approaches the problem indirectly, teaching healthy alternative coping mechanisms through techniques such as mindfulness meditation and yoga. Simply learning to cultivate gratitude can be very helpful for addiction recovery.
For trauma therapy to succeed, the therapist must ensure the trauma survivor feels respected and is informed about the issue and the process and given the tools to develop optimism about the recovery process. The person striving for recovery must boldly face their trauma and identify the relationship between their trauma and their addiction. For best results, family and friends must be engaged in the healing process and understand the problem in order to provide support.
The US government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has put forth the following six key principles for trauma-focused addiction recovery programs. They should offer “safety, trustworthiness and transparency, peer support, collaboration and mutuality, empowerment, voice, and choice, and should be aware of cultural, historical, and gender issues.”
Learn More About Addiction Recovery
You can read more about the different types of therapy for addiction recovery here. If you are concerned about someone in your family, you can learn more about family dynamics and addiction in this article. Codependency is often an important family dynamic to understand in order to help break the cycle of addiction. When you are ready to try to persuade your loved one, we’ve got advice on how to convince someone to go to rehab. If you yourself are the one who needs convincing, here eight great things to look forward to about being in recovery, and here are some helpful suggestions on how to conquer your rehab fears with hope. Your new and better life is waiting for you to create it. Why wait? Take the first step today.
Talk To Someone Today
Seasons Bali offers support for people struggling with addiction. You are here reading this, so it is probably time for you or someone you care about to take the first step towards a much better life. It takes work but you can leave the unfulfilling cycle and the suffering behind.
If someone you care about has a problem with drugs or alcohol or any other form of addiction, talk to someone who understands. We are here to help. Call one of our experts today at (toll-free Australia) 1800 288 348 +61 398045757 or email us at [email protected] and we will call you.