Trauma and substance use disorder (SUD) are highly comorbid. Some people use substances to manage trauma symptoms or dysregulated emotions. Trauma therapy can help people find healthier coping mechanisms to manage these symptoms. It provides people with a safe space to explore their SUD symptoms by working with mental health professionals who are sensitive and considerate of their trauma triggers. At the core of SUD treatment, trauma symptoms and triggers must be taken into account to have a sustained and successful recovery.
What Is Trauma?
Trauma occurs when a person perceives an experience as distressing or harmful. People often think of traumatic events as being severely oppressive first-hand experiences. However, trauma is about how a person perceives an experience. Any event or series of events that cause a person physical or emotional harm or is life-threatening can cause trauma. Two people can have the same shared experience, but one person could perceive the event as traumatic, whereas the other could not. Sometimes witnessing or hearing about an event that caused physical or emotional harm to a close friend or family member can be traumatic. Some examples of traumatic events include:
- Natural disasters
- Assault or abuse
- Terrorist attacks
- Mass shootings
- Car crashes or other accidents
- The unexpected death of a loved one
Trauma responses usually happen within days, weeks, or months after the traumatic event occurs. These responses typically include:
- Anxiousness, sadness, anger
- Difficulties concentrating and sleeping
- Continually thinking about the event
Some people will have more severe trauma responses than others. Trauma responses become concerning when they begin to interfere with the person’s ability to function in their daily life. Some symptoms of more severe trauma responses include:
- Excessive worrying, anxiety, sadness, or fearfulness
- Frequent crying
- Troubles thinking clearly
- Frightening thoughts, flashbacks, or reliving the traumatic experience
- Experiencing anger, resentfulness, or irritability
- Nightmares or difficulty sleeping
- Avoiding places that remind the person of the traumatic events
- Isolation from family and friends
Some physical symptoms of severe trauma responses include:
- Stomach aches and digestive issues
- Racing heart
- Being easily startled and jumpy
People are more likely to develop severer trauma symptoms if they have other mental health disorders, struggled with other past trauma, or face ongoing stress. A person may be at risk of developing more severe symptoms due to a lack of a support system to help them heal from the trauma. Support systems can include the person’s friends, family, and mental health professionals and resources.
What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Trauma responses stem from a natural “fight-or-flight” response in potentially harmful situations. However, when trauma symptoms persist for at least a month or longer, they could develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Recovery from PTSD varies anywhere from six months to years. PTSD symptoms can even become a chronic disorder that the person will continually need to manage. For a PTSD diagnosis, trauma symptoms must be severe, last a month or longer, and fit the appropriate categories.
One symptom from each of the following categories:
- Re-experiencing: flashbacks, reliving the trauma, which causes physical symptoms such as heart racing or sweating, bad dreams, and frightening thoughts
- Avoidance: staying away from places, events, or objects that remind the person of the traumatic experience, or avoiding thoughts and feelings related to the trauma
Two symptoms from each of the following categories:
- Arousal and reactivity: being easily startled, feeling “on edge,” having difficulties sleeping, and experiencing angry outbursts
- Cognitive and mood: difficulties remembering key aspects of the traumatic event, negative thoughts about themselves or the world, distorted guilty feelings, loss of interest in enjoyable activities
People can’t heal when they are in a constant state of feeling unsafe. Trauma therapy, or a trauma-informed approach, stresses a sense of safety during a therapy session so that clients won’t be afraid to open up and analyze their feelings. The best way to create an atmosphere of safety is through trust and transparency. In trauma therapy, clients and mental health professionals have an open dialogue about the client’s treatment plan. While trauma therapy may sometimes encourage clients to step out of their comfort zone, when a client expresses extreme discomfort, the mental health professional must work with them to brainstorm a new approach.
Trauma therapy is about collaborating with the client on the best treatment approach so they can be empowered to make healthier choices. It’s about considering the client as a whole. A mental health professional must take into account a client’s cultural, historical, and gender background. These aspects will change the way their clients move and navigate treatment.
SUD and Trauma Therapy
Trauma therapy can help people in recovery focus on their SUD symptoms. By using a trauma-informed approach and therapy techniques that are sensitive to a person’s trauma triggers, mental health professionals can create an environment where clients are not distracted by other outside stressors. A person cannot have a successful recovery without learning how to manage trauma symptoms. This can be achieved through talk therapies such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing treatment (EMDR) and trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT).
Trauma therapy can help you manage both your substance use and trauma symptoms. It gives you the space to safely talk about your behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. Restoration Recovery Centers offers trauma therapy and prides itself on creating a safe space for you to reprocess your trauma and analyze your substance use symptoms. Our mental health professionals will work closely with you to create a treatment program you feel comfortable with that caters to your recovery goals and needs. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, call (888) 290-0925 to learn how Restoration Recovery Centers can help you restore your life’s purpose and heal from addiction.