Trauma is one of the leading factors that can play into substance misuse. This is true for both recent trauma or trauma from long ago, as all trauma can have long-lasting effects on a person. It’s important for those who treat individuals struggling with a substance abuse disorder to help them be aware of any traumas that may be affecting them. One reason why this is important is because their treatment plan will likely need to be adjusted to avoid triggering this trauma or making it worse. Treating trauma and addiction simultaneously can be extremely delicate work. However, when done properly, it can allow patients to finally find lasting peace and clarity through healing from distressing events from the past.

Understanding What Trauma Is and How It Affects Mental Health

People define trauma in different ways. It can occur as a one-time event or can be experienced sporadically over time. Some common examples of trauma include: 

  • Experiencing a health emergency
  • Losing a loved one
  • Going through a divorce 
  • Being the victim of bullying or abuse 
  • Surviving a natural disaster 
  • Living through a serious car accident 
  • Being neglected as a child 

The way that trauma affects an individual is based upon how they perceive the event or events that transpired. In many cases, people will blame themselves for what occurred, even if it wasn’t their fault. If they were in a situation in which they survived and others didn’t, they may struggle with survivors’ guilt. 

Some common examples of ways that trauma can impact one’s mental health include: 

  • Feelings of helplessness or a lack of control 
  • Emotional numbness 
  • Unhealthy relationships with food
  • A compulsion to engage in unhealthy relationships
  • Trouble making good decisions 
  • Engaging in risky activities
  • Feeling the need to engage in drugs or alcohol to find relief 

When trauma is affecting an individual, their brain will actively seek out any possible way to find relief. It’s for this reason that trauma can be extremely debilitating and dangerous when it goes untreated.

The Basics of Trauma-Informed Care

Addiction can creep up slowly over time, often without the individual realizing that it’s happening. While some people may realize what triggered their substance use disorder, others may have no idea. Patients that have experienced trauma, in many cases, have buried the memory of what happened deep down as a way of coping. While they might believe they have dealt with what occurred, they may not realize that the event is continuing to affect them in various negative ways. 

The first step of trauma-informed care is helping the individual to pinpoint their trauma without causing more damage in the process. Once the individual has determined the root of their trauma, they can then begin to work through their emotions productively. While speaking with a therapist, they can help get a better understanding of how their trauma has affected them over time and what influence it has had on their substance use. 

This process can be summarized quite simply with 3 key elements known as the “3 R’s.”

#1. Realizing that trauma has occurred and what role it has played in one’s experience with substance use. 

#2. Recognizing the signs of trauma in one’s past and how it affects their current behaviors.

#3. Responding to the trauma with the help of a professional and learning how to effectively move past it in a positive way. 

The Vital Components of Trauma-Informed Care

There are some vital components that must be considered for trauma-informed care to be productive. These components include:

#1. Feeling comfortable in one’s environment.

It can be very stressful and emotionally taxing to open up about traumatic events, especially if an individual has avoided thinking about them for a long period of time or is struggling with the fear of judgment. Thus, it is incredibly important that a patient feels comfortable enough in their environment and comfortable enough with their therapist to share with them. To help a patient feel more comfortable, it is important for the person administering treatment to not be overly pushy or try to persuade the individual to open up past the level in which they are comfortable. 

#2. Understanding the power of choice.

Many people who experience trauma feel as if they are out of control of their own lives. It is important to make sure that they understand that throughout recovery they will be treated with dignity and respect and will be able to make their own choices regarding their treatment options. 

#3. Feeling a sense of empowerment.

Part of healing from past trauma is being able to create a sense of empowerment and rebuild one’s self-worth. It is essential that patients are encouraged and empowered to persevere beyond any distressing experiences from their past.

Trauma is one of the most common causes of substance use disorders. Trauma can be defined in many different ways and can take a major toll on one’s mental health. It can be a delicate task to treat someone who’s struggling with trauma and a substance use disorder simultaneously. Thus, it is important for a treatment specialist to use caution to ensure they don’t make the trauma worse. Some people try to bury trauma instead of dealing with it, not realizing that it will continue to affect them even years later. Through trauma-informed care, an individual can begin to process what happened to them and how it made them feel and then start the healing process. If you are struggling with a substance use disorder, you are not alone. Our team at Dream Recovery is here to help you. Call (949) 732-1960 today to learn more about the services we provide.

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