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Dealing with Trauma Issues to Strengthen Recovery

At one time or another, we will all experience some form of trauma. While many will be able to work through some traumas and continue on in a healthy way, other traumas can impact us to such an extent that they become extremely difficult or impossible to overcome. This can lead to the development of PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Those with the disorder may turn to self-medicating with illicit substances to cope with their emotional distress. However, this can lead to far more serious issues. Trauma-informed care offers patients a far more beneficial way of strengthening recovery.

Types of Trauma

Although PTSD is commonly associated with individuals who are in the military, the reality is that PTSD can affect anyone at any time. Trauma can occur as the result of experiencing a wide range of traumatic events, including:

  • Suffering any capacity of bodily harm
  • Witnessing a fatality or serious injury
  • Experiencing a natural disaster
  • Witnessing or being involved in a car accident
  • Being the victim of verbal, physical or sexual abuse or assault

It is because of the many ways in which trauma can occur that nearly 8% of the population in the United States will experience some form of trauma, according to the National Center for PTSD.1 Child sexual abuse and sexual assault are more likely to occur to women, where men are more likely to witness injury or death, disaster and combat, experience accidents, and be the victims of physical assault.

Adding to the complexity of treatment are the many common traits of a traumatic experience that often combine, which compounds suffering to the point that drug use can seem like the only option for relief. The common traits of traumatic experiences which can lead to drug addiction requiring outpatient treatment programs include:

  • A feeling of being responsible for causing the traumatic event, even though the event was not the fault of the individual
  • Not being mentally, emotionally, or physically prepared for the traumatic event
  • Not anticipating the traumatic event
  • A feeling of powerlessness to address or stop the traumatic event from occurring

Trauma’s Physical Effects

In situations where stress is experienced, several areas of the brain are activated, including the amygdala, hippocampus, and medial prefrontal cortex. When this occurs, the body releases norepinephrine and cortisol hormones, which increases arousal to allow us to take the actions necessary to respond to the stressor. In times where normal stress is experienced, the above activations and subsequent release of hormones are turned off once the stressor is eliminated.

When an individual is affected by PTSD, however, the above activations and hormonal releases that occur during a stress response do not deactivate. This leads either to prolonged and chronic hyper-arousal or the complete shut-down of the nervous system. In the body, cortisol and norepinephrine are continuously released, which can lead to many issues, including memory loss, depression, sleep disturbance, aggression, and self-destructive behavior, such as drug addiction.

Why Self-Medicating is Not a Solution

Although the use of drugs can seem to alleviate the debilitating symptoms of PTSD, the fleeting “high” wears off quickly, and attempting to get the same high over and over to cope with stress is ineffective and extremely dangerous. Drug use not only doesn’t “turn off” the stress response and release of hormones in the body but, over time, more drugs will be required to achieve the same level of relief from symptoms, leading to addiction. Prolonged addiction can also exacerbate many health issues, especially mental health disorders.

Not to mention, when a traumatized individual seeks solace via drug use, a form of subsequent trauma occurs: that which affects relationships. Relationship trauma is the deterioration of relationships with loved ones. When this occurs, one loses the psychological and emotional security once relied on for survival. This compounds the issue, as individuals must now seek solace for this loss of security, as well as for their PTSD, which can lead to the use of drugs that are even more dangerous.

How Addiction and Trauma Are Linked

What’s troubling about addiction and trauma is that it is reciprocal; either one can cause the other. When this happens, a dual diagnosis of both PTSD and substance addiction is the result. Those with PTSD as the result of experiencing intense trauma will turn to drugs in order to help them forget this trauma. In cases where addiction leads to PTSD, individuals who are living the lifestyle of active addiction may have experienced dangerous and therefore traumatizing situations or witnessed the effects of an overdose on their friends.

Now that trauma is recognized as a serious issue that must be overcome in order to achieve full recovery, more well-rounded approaches are available. Individuals being treated in a trauma-informed manner are able to process and heal from their trauma, and then are treated for their addiction, thus preventing relapse in both cases.

Healthy Living After Alcohol Recovery

What Is Trauma-Informed Rehab?

Trauma-informed rehab recognizes the occurrence of trauma in individuals’ lives and works to help them process it in a healthy way. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) focuses not on procedure or practice, but on the adherence to six key trauma-informed care principles. This focus allows for treatment to be applied in a wide range of settings. The six key principles are:

  1. Peer support
  2. Gender, historical, and cultural issues
  3. Safety
  4. Choice, voice, and empowerment
  5. Mutuality and collaboration
  6. Transparency and trustworthiness

All of the above principles allow for affected individuals and their families to build links between recovery and resilience. When these principles are bolstered by services and supports that are also trauma-informed, individuals are able to manage their symptoms without drug use, thus resulting in successful treatment.

What Is an Intensive Outpatient Program?

The goal of intensive outpatient programs, or IOPs, is to provide those in the early stages of recovery with a bridge between their active rehabilitation and independent living.
IOPs combine treatment and support in order to aid in recovery but without relying on detoxification, which typically requires individuals to remain at a rehab center. Instead, IOPs allow individuals to live at home so they can continue meeting their daily work and personal responsibilities, as well as travel to a facility to participate in treatment.

An IOP combines a range of intensive therapies with group programs to help alleviate the physical, emotional, and mental effects of both PTSD and drug addiction. Professionals, including case managers, behavioral health specialists, medical doctors, and primary therapists, work as a team to provide treatment as well as instruction on building the coping skills so essential to long-term success.

These types of programs address all sides of addiction and PTSD, including family therapy, education, and individual and group counseling. This allows for previously secure relationships to be healed and rebuilt as the individual obtains coping skills and education about dealing with their PTSD in healthy ways.

Guiding Clients on the Path to Sobriety

Woman Enjoying Her Sobriety

The complexities surrounding PTSD and drug addiction are unique to the individual, which is why it’s so important to employ a treatment model that’s highly personalized. The IOP offered by RECO Intensive offers this level of personalization using a holistic approach that addresses the spiritual, physical, and mental intricacies of PTSD and drug addiction.

The team of specialists at RECO provide intensive outpatient therapy via their outpatient treatment programs and combine this treatment with education in the form of sober living programs and aftercare, which provides individuals with the resources they need to maintain their sobriety long-term. Those who choose RECO for their recovery find empathy and steadfast support from professionals who are willing to invest in their renewal, restoration, and recovery. If you are ready to begin recovery, we are ready to help; call 844-900-7326 today.


  1. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/basics/how-common-is-ptsd.asp

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