How Can Trauma Impact Substance Use?

How Can Trauma Impact Substance Use?

Studies have shown a correlation between substance use and trauma. As a result, many rehabilitation facilities provide trauma-based therapies that focus on healing the person’s trauma to treat their substance use symptoms. Unfortunately, some people are in denial or blind to the link between their trauma, substance use, and other mental health symptoms. Mental health professionals can help their patients understand and identify traumatic events in their lives that can help in their treatment.

What Is Trauma?

Trauma can be caused by exposure to a threat of death, serious injury, or sexual violence, which a person may experience directly or indirectly. Indirect experiences of trauma may include being a witness to abuse, violence, severe injury, or learning about someone close to you suffering from a traumatic event.

Trauma is dependent on how a person perceives a threatening experience. Depending on the person, life events that can cause trauma are perceived as more or less threatening. Two people can experience the same event that traumatizes one person but not the other. Trauma can result from a threatening event or series of events that cause distress. These events may include:

  • Unexpected catastrophes
  • Warfare
  • Natural disasters
  • Abuse or assault
  • Neglect

A person experiencing trauma may have thoughts of hopelessness and feel paralyzed by their thoughts. Trauma symptoms can range from mild to severe and tend to worsen if the trauma is chronic instead of an isolated incident. A trauma response may include the following:

  • Fear
  • Grief
  • Depression
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Withdrawal from daily activities

These symptoms can last up to three months. If symptoms surpass three months, the person could potentially meet the requirements of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis. Trauma can affect the functioning of an individual, family, group, community, specific culture, or generation. These people or groups may become overwhelmed and lack the necessary resources to cope with their symptoms and ignite a fight, flight, fawn, or freeze reaction.

What Is PTSD?

Not everyone who experiences trauma has PTSD. If people can healthily process their trauma through mental health counseling and a supportive environment, they might not develop PTSD symptoms. PTSD symptoms include:

  • Re-experiencing the event: This usually occurs through flashbacks, nightmares, frightening thoughts, racing heart, and extreme physical or emotional reactions to other seemingly non-threatening situations
  • Avoidance: Staying away from places or people that remind them of the traumatic event and shutting down thoughts or feelings related to trauma. This may include feelings of detachment from others.
  • Arousal: Overly alert and aware of your surroundings, difficulties sleeping, angry outbursts, irritability, intense feelings of being “on edge,” and rage.
  • Cognition and mood: Amnesia surrounding the event, negative thoughts about oneself or the world, anhedonia or loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, and distorted feelings such as blame or guilt.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, a person must experience symptoms from all the categories listed above at least once a month. In addition, a person must experience arousal and cognitive symptoms at least twice a month to qualify for a PTSD diagnosis.

Processing Trauma

Avoiding trauma symptoms will only make them worse. It may seem counter-intuitive, but a person must confront their trauma for a person to process and mitigate symptoms healthily. However, people may become easily overwhelmed if they shut down their daily routine and only concentrate on managing their symptoms. It is helpful to try to resolve their symptoms on a day-to-day basis. This will prevent the person from becoming too overwhelmed and ease the stress caused by experienced trauma.

Experiencing trauma symptoms after a threatening event is expected. One study observed the prevalence of trauma in the United States to affect 61% of men and 51% of women. People experiencing trauma need to remember that they are not alone and should treat themselves with kindness. Some tips for people struggling with trauma include:

  • Asking others for help and support
  • Participating in leisure and recreational activities
  • Acknowledging that they can’t control everything
  • Contacting a mental health professional

Trauma and Substance Use

As a person’s trauma increases, their risk of developing a substance use disorder also increases. Similarly, people with substance use disorders are at a higher risk of experiencing trauma and developing PTSD. Due to this high correlation, many rehabilitation facilities offer trauma-informed care (TIC). This means treating all patients as if they have been exposed to trauma regardless of whether or not the person discloses their traumatic experience.

TIC emphasizes the importance of their patients feeling in control by giving them some freedoms. Programs that use TIC don’t reinforce a sense of powerlessness or loss of control which might turn a person off from treatment by triggering the loss of control they felt during a traumatic event. The idea is to give client’s a safe space that won’t trigger their trauma while they undergo initial substance use treatment.

Trauma is at the root of many people’s substance use disorders. A person’s ability to identify and understand experienced traumatic events could be the key to having a successful recovery. Restoration Recovery Center provides its patients with a safe space to process their trauma and learn how to manage their substance use and mental health symptoms. Our mental health professionals give our patients agency by collaborating with them to create the patient’s recovery program. We also allow three hours of phone use daily so our patients don’t feel isolated from loved ones during their treatment. Our programs are tailored to the individual because we see our patients as people, not numbers. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, please call (888) 290-0925 to learn how we can help you achieve long-term sobriety through treatments that focus on the body, mind, and spirit.

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