Recovery from Trauma and Addiction

Recovery from Trauma and Addiction

By Rebecca Villar
Rebecca Villar
Published: November 28, 2020

More than 1.5 million Americans struggle with a substance use disorder. Many of these same people also have a mental health condition. As we better understand the dynamic relationships among mental health, life experiences, genetics/epigenetics, and addiction, we have become better equipped to help people overcome the challenges they face. Working through trauma with the help of a therapist is the missing piece of the puzzle for many people attempting to overcome substance use disorder. Contact Lakeview Health today by calling 866.704.7692 to learn more about the relationship between trauma and addiction. Your recovery can start today. 

Trauma and Addiction Recovery

In addition to genetic susceptibility to addiction, negative life experiences play a significant role in developing mood symptoms, anxiety disorders, and addiction. Trauma is an often-overlooked factor in substance abuse treatment; however, we now know that past trauma resolution can play a significant role in successful addiction rehabilitation. Surviving trauma often leads to substance abuse and addiction, but effective and comprehensive treatment is available. Trauma refers to any event or repeated experience that has caused lasting fear and distress. 

The presence of trauma is determined by the person’s subjective reaction, not by the nature of the event: What is traumatizing for one person may not be traumatizing for another.

Trauma can be due to military combat exposure, experiencing or witnessing physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; the death of a loved one; assault; major injuries; or other catastrophic events. Trauma is not always immediately felt, recognized, understood, or treated, but can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions. Trauma therapy is best combined with the following rehab programs:

PTSD can include nightmares, mood swings, anger, low motivation, poor concentration, sleep issues, impulsivity, hopelessness, relationship problems, and negative thinking. Sadly, it is common for many people with PTSD to turn to alcohol or drugs to help them cope with these devastating changes in their lives. Studies have shown that up to two-thirds of people with addiction have experienced significant trauma at some point in their lives. 

How Does Trauma Affect Addiction?

The link between trauma and addiction is even stronger when the trauma occurs in childhood, while the brain is still developing. Children who experience high numbers of traumatic events in childhood have a greater risk of addiction. Trauma can lead to many changes within the brain (including the prefrontal cortex, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, limbic system, and striatum), resulting in a cascade of difficulties with thinking, mood, and behavior that can make the person more likely to develop an addiction. 

Addiction and Trauma Treatment

Fortunately, there is hope for overcoming both trauma and addiction with the proper treatment in the appropriate setting. A meta-analysis by Roberts, Roberts, Jones, and Bisson (2015) concluded that trauma-focused psychological interventions delivered with substance use treatment led to reduced PTSD severity and decreased alcohol and substance abuse.

Trauma-Informed Therapy

Addressing trauma makes people more likely to stay in treatment and get well. Treating substance use disorder often involves treating trauma. Getting this kind of treatment helps people finish treatment and start new lives. The trauma-informed therapies also led to a greater likelihood of sobriety maintenance, whereas non-trauma-focused interventions did not lead to positive outcomes. Treatment for trauma was historically completed after sustained sobriety (if at all), but research has shown this approach to be much less effective than simultaneously addressing both disorders. However, to fully participate in and process the therapies, detox will generally be completed prior to beginning trauma work. Following detox, both disorders can be treated in an integrative and comprehensive manner. Contact Lakeview Health today to learn more about our trauma-informed care program.