Resolving Trauma and Addiction Recovery

Posted by Jackson Bentley on Aug 27, 2018 8:00:00 AM
Jackson Bentley
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For many, trauma is one of the most challenging aspects of addiction recovery to understand and overcome. The long-term effects of trauma can be far-reaching and influence the development of addiction in multiple ways, and if the addict does not find ways to address the underlying trauma, their chances for achieving long-term sobriety and happiness are diminished.


Trauma as an underlying cause of addiction is more common than you think, and treatment can be difficult because it involves opening and mending deep psychological wounds. This blog post aims to help you understand more about trauma, what its long-term effects are, and ways to address trauma healthily and productively. Although the information contained in this article can be a useful resource for understanding trauma, it does not make a substitute for the assistance of a professional therapist or counselor.


“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”– C.S. Lewis


What is Trauma?

No single type of trauma affects everyone. Multiple causes of trauma can cause different reactions in different people, and the recovery process will always take a different path. Sometimes trauma is a one-time event that creates lasting impacts on the brain of the victim, while other times trauma is repeated exposure to stressful situations and experiences. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Trauma is defined as:


“Trauma, including one-time, multiple, or long-lasting repetitive events, affects everyone differently. Some individuals may display criteria associated with PTSD, but many more individuals will exhibit resilient responses or brief subclinical symptoms or consequences that fall outside of diagnostic criteria. The impact of trauma can be subtle, insidious, or outright destructive. How an event affects an individual depends on many factors, including characteristics of the individual, the type and characteristics of the event, developmental processes, the meaning of the trauma, and sociocultural factors.”


In other words, while the cause of trauma varies, the symptoms of trauma are the same. Any experience that leaves a person with lasting symptoms similar to PTSD or other clinical signs can be construed as trauma. The extent and severity of the trauma are dependent on numerous factors such as age, genetics, environment, memory, and more. The most common sources of trauma are:


  • Domestic Violence
  • Sexual Assault
  • Natural Disasters
  • War
  • Witnessing Death
  • Violence
  • Abuse


These kinds of events lead to emotional and physical symptoms of trauma that may get worse over a period. Some people may respond to these events by choosing to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to ease the burden of daily life. Others may become numb to the event and only realize they have stunted emotional growth when they reexamine the event years later. Some people may even suppress the memory as too traumatic and only carry the symptoms around, unsure of why they feel the way they do.


“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger — something better, pushing right back.” – Albert Camus


What are the Effects of Trauma?

No matter the traumatic event, symptoms will eventually rear their head in the form of physical and emotional responses. Many of these symptoms can be subtle, while others take time to develop and become difficult to overcome. The good news is that through therapy and counseling, there is hope for overcoming the symptoms of trauma to live a happy and healthy life. Here are some common symptoms of trauma to look out for if you believe you may be suffering:


  • Denial of the traumatic event
  • Numbness to the traumatic event
  • Extreme Anger
  • Depression
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Guilt and shame
  • Shaking and sweating
  • Sleep problems and insomnia
  • Trouble breathing
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Substance use disorder
  • PTSD


PTSD is one of the most common manifestations of responses to a traumatic event. The stress and anxiety of the situation gradually culminate in this mental disorder that has both physical and emotional symptoms. The long-term effects of trauma can affect your ability to hold healthy relationships and will gradually wear away at your physical health. The way you respond to emotional situations and how you feel about yourself is also affected, including your ability to process emotions and deal with new experiences. With proper counseling and addiction treatment, however, these issues can be decreased.


Trauma and Addiction

Traumatic events can be the catalyst for a perfectly healthy individual to spiral into substance abuse. The long-term effects of trauma make daily life such an unmanageable mess that substances may seem like the only means of coping. Research has shown a strong correlation between individuals who have experienced trauma and those with substance use disorder. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, at least 1 in 4 people who experience trauma will develop an addiction as a direct response.


"When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways - either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits or by using the challenge to find our inner strength. Thanks to the teachings of Buddha, I have been able to take this second way." - Dalai Lama


Dealing with the Long-Term Effects of Trauma

A man hugging a woman while sitting on a tree stump. They are working through trauma and addiction together.

Dealing with trauma and its long-term effects can be an onerous burden to bear. Thankfully, it’s not one that anyone has to carry alone. One of the most important aspects of addiction recovery is therapy and counseling to address the underlying psychological wounds. One on one counseling can help individuals learn coping strategies and create a plan for long-term success. Therapy is generally included in most forms of addiction treatment, such as in residential and outpatient treatment centers. These treatment centers provide help in the following ways:


  • A safe environment for traumatic events to be shared
  • Help identifying the traumatic event and its effects on later life
  • Identifying how the traumatic event is tied to other emotional and physical responses
  • Exploring support system options
  • Learning to become aware of the underlying mental and physical responses
  • Learning that the traumatic event and your response is not your fault
  • Learning strategies and coping skills for dealing with traumatic responses


There are several types of treatment options available that can help you not only get sober but also deal with the underlying trauma that may play a part in fueling your addiction. If you do not have a substance use disorder but have symptoms of trauma, you should seek the assistance of a certified counselor or therapist who deals specifically with trauma. Here are the treatment options available to you if you need help with trauma and addiction.


Residential Treatment

Residential treatment, also known as inpatient rehab, is what comes to mind when most people imagine “rehab” Residential treatment involves having the patient stay on premise at the facility for upwards of 30 days, with some programs extending even longer. While enrolled in residential treatment, patients may first undergo medically supervised detoxification to purge the toxins from their system. During detox, patients completely withdraw from their drug through the use of tapering medication and careful medical monitoring. This process may take anywhere from 7 - 10 days and sometimes less.


The rest of the patient’s stay in residential treatment involves attending group and individual therapy, one on one counseling, and support groups. These programs help the patient to understand the underlying trauma that may be triggering their substance abuse as well as how to deal with that trauma healthily and productively. While enrolled in residential treatment, they will have the chance to share their story in a safe and supportive environment where they can build a support framework that can serve them for the rest of their sobriety. One of the most significant benefits of residential treatment is that patients are placed in an environment where they are restricted from using substances. They finally have a chance to view their addiction from a different perspective and hopefully gain some clarity.


Partial Hospitalization Program

Partial Hospitalization or PHP is similar to residential treatment, but not as restricted. Partial hospitalization means just that: the patient is only partially required to stay within the facility. Outside of medical check-ups, therapy, and activities, the patient is allowed to live at home or within a separate sober living home. PHP works best for those who still need to work or take care of responsibilities at home and typically operates on a Mon-Fri basis.


With partial hospitalization, the patient has access to support groups, counselors, and recovery resources. This type of treatment is ideal for people who have completed inpatient rehab and can benefit from a structured step-down in the level of program intensity, to help ease the transition into an independent lifestyle. PHP participants work with staff and other members to develop comprehensive aftercare plans that ensure that when the person has completed their stay in PHP, they will leave with a well-constructed plan that identifies the professional referrals and other resources to support continued recovery.


Intensive Outpatient

IOP’s are an alternative to inpatient rehab. Whereas with inpatient you will be in a medically supervised environment for 1 to 3 months, IOP allows you the freedom to come and go. IOP contains many of the same services, however, such as therapy, relapse management, and coping strategies.


Research has shown intensive outpatient rehab to be as successful as other forms of treatment available. IOP typically ranges from 9 or more hours per week of sessions in a facility, allowing the patient to live at home and carry on with their day to day activities. IOP is sometimes preferred in less severe cases of addiction because it allows the patient to continue working, take care of any dependents, and hopefully become more well adjusted to sober life in their community.


A typical IOP session will last from 1-3 hours per session and can include group recovery work, individual counseling, family therapy, individual therapy, or expressive therapy. Because of its more voluntary and less restrictive nature, patients may choose to drop out or gradually lessen their involvement in IOP. This is strongly discouraged unless doing so is the recommended course of action from the clinical professional seeing that person. Although IOP may not be the perfect solution for every candidate, it is excellent for those deemed to be qualified.


“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” – Helen Keller


Healing From Trauma

The long-term effects of a traumatic event do not have to be a life sentence. There is hope for those seeking to overcome the effects of trauma and live happy, successful lives. Healing takes time, patience, and courage, so do not be dismayed by any short-term failures in the recovery process. If you are having trouble with the symptoms of trauma, you can try different methods of home remedies that may help you feel better in the short term. One recovery tip is to try deep breathing exercises. Doing simple breathing exercises will calm your brain and alleviate the symptoms of stress and trauma. Trying inhaling for a count of 4, holding for a count of 7, and exhaling for a count of 8. Another recovery tip is to develop an exercise routine. Physical activity and regular exercise can strengthen the body as well as reduce stress.


In Conclusion

You do not have to face trauma alone. It is a more common experience than people think and there are many support groups and options available to help you fully heal. Landmark Recovery provides drug & and alcohol recovery centers that help addicts take the first steps towards achieving and maintaining sobriety. Our therapy programs help patients to understand and cope with past trauma with the eventual goal of coping and leading a happy, fulfilling life that is substance free. Our caring staff is trained in residential treatment, individual and group therapy, as well as intensive outpatient and detox treatment.



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Topics: Addiction

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