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What is Trauma and How Does it Impact Addiction?

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Trauma is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as an emotional response to a serious and horrific event. Accidents, natural disasters, violence, and rape are just some examples of a type of event that leads to trauma. In addition to a single traumatic event, trauma can also be enduring a difficult situation in childhood or beyond. One example of this is childhood abuse or neglect. 

In the United States, about half of all citizens will experience trauma at some point in their lives. However, most of these individuals will not go on to develop ongoing mental health issues as a result. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), only about 3.6% of the U.S. population has ongoing issues from trauma or post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). And while the percentage is small, this equates to about 9 million adults in the U.S. alone. 

For those individuals who do develop issues from a traumatic experience, only a small percent ever get the help they need. Many of these individuals go on to develop additional mental health issues, especially alcohol or substance use disorders. According to research, about 50% of those individuals with PTSD also have a substance or alcohol abuse issue. 

If you or someone you care about is living with PTSD or addiction to alcohol or another substance, Futures Recovery Healthcare is here for you. Futures boasts some of the nation’s best therapists certified in trauma-informed care. In addition, Futures has special tracks for those who tend to experience more trauma leading to substance or alcohol use disorders. 

Individuals such as first responders, veterans, and other occupations need specialized care in order to recover from addiction and trauma. Futures’ Hero’s Ascent First Responders Track offers our nation’s first responders and veterans safe, discreet, specialized care. In addition, the  Trauma Track offers specialized therapies and treatment approaches for those with trauma and substance or alcohol abuse issues. 

What Are Types of Trauma? 

Trauma doesn’t discriminate and can impact people from any religion, race, socio-economic background, etc. However, certain groups are more likely to experience trauma and related mental health issues than others. Women are twice as likely as men to have PTSD. Additionally, U.S. Latinos, African-Americans, and American Indians are disproportionately impacted by trauma as compared to non-Latino whites. 

When it comes to trauma there are two different types:

  1. PTSD
  2. Complex Trauma or complex PTSD

PTSD occurs when an individual experiences or witnesses a terrible event. Complex PTSD, which is a relatively new term and not yet included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is when a child (in most cases) endures chronic and ongoing abuse. 

There are also a variety of events—both one-time and ongoing—that can lead to PTSD or Complex PTSD. Some of these are:

  • Childhood neglect
  • Emotional, physical, sexual abuse 
  • A family member with a mental health issue
  • A family member with an alcohol or substance use disorder
  • Sudden death of a loved one or separation from a loved one or family member
  • Community violence
  • Homelessness
  • Natural and human-driven disasters
  • Poverty and discrimination
  • Bullying
  • Medical trauma
  • Traumatic grief
  • Sex trafficking

No matter what type of trauma or traumas an individual experiences, when they are unable to process the event or events in healthy ways, it can often lead to the development of PTSD, Complex PTSD, or other related conditions. 

Related conditions include alcohol use disorder (AUD), substance use disorder (SUD), acute stress disorder, adjustment disorder, disinhibited social engagement disorder, reactive attachment disorder, anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and more. 

So how do you know if you have a trauma-related disorder such as PTSD or are just working through what happened? According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the symptoms of PTSD fall into four different categories. These are: 

1. Intrusion

This includes flashbacks, nightmares, repeated thoughts about the event. 

2. Avoidance

This is when an individual avoids anything that reminds them of the traumatic event including people, places, activities, situations, etc. that may trigger memories of the event. 

3. Changes in cognition and mood

Distorted memories of the event, unfounded beliefs about the event, distorted beliefs about oneself or others (for example, ‘no one can be trusted’), unrealistic beliefs about the cause of the event (for example, blaming oneself entirely), loss of interest in activities, isolation, and the inability to experience positive emotions. 

4. Changes in arousal and reactivity

This may include increased irritability, anger, and angry outbursts, reckless and self-destructive behaviors, sleep disturbances, being overly watchful or becoming paranoid, being easily startled, having issues concentrating, etc. 

A diagnosis of PTSD is when the above symptoms continue to present one month or more after the traumatic event or events. In most cases, PTSD symptoms begin about three months after the event. 

As you can see, many of these symptoms evoke uncomfortable and difficult to deal with emotions. It’s easy to see how individuals who are living with PTSD and other related trauma-induced mental health issues want relief. This is why, as mentioned, an estimated 50% of those with PTSD also have an alcohol or substance abuse issue. 

For many with trauma in their life, seeking relief from the anxiety, shame, guilt, and deep pain leads to full-blown addiction. And while that first drink or drug may seem to bring a moment of relief, it only leads to more issues. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that about 7.7 million American adults have a co-occurring mental health and substance or alcohol abuse issue. And of these millions, only 9.1% will get treatment for both the mental health issue and the substance or alcohol use issue. 

For this reason, it’s vital when seeking treatment for one or the other, you find a treatment facility with experience and success in treating co-occurring disorders. Futures has significant experience in treating co-occurring disorders, including the treatment of trauma-related conditions. 

Trauma and Addiction Treatment 

As mentioned, if you or someone you love is living with trauma and addiction, seeking help at an addiction treatment center with trauma care is critical. There are a few items to look for when it comes to trauma and addiction treatment. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in collaboration with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Center for Trauma-Informed Care (NCTIC), have developed six principles for trauma-informed care. These are: 

  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness and transparency
  3. Peer support
  4. Collaboration and mutuality
  5. Empowerment and choice
  6. Cultural, gender, and historical issues

According to research, these six factors are vital for any trauma-informed care to be successful. 

Not only does trauma impact mental health, but it also can have negative consequences on the body. Alcohol and substance abuse can wreak havoc on one’s health and additionally those with trauma have been found to have more instances of certain health ailments. 

Certain lung and heart diseases, cancers, autoimmune diseases, sexually transmitted infections, and more are found at higher rates in those individuals with past trauma and PTSD. 

No matter what kind of trauma you’ve experienced, no matter how long you’ve lived with it, and no matter what you’ve done to try to cope, there is help for you. Recovering from trauma is possible with the right treatment. 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that the following are the most effective types of treatment for trauma and related substance or alcohol use disorders:

  • Psychotherapy including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Self-management strategies such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and more
  • Medications
  • Service animals such as dogs have been found effective for PTSD

When it comes to trauma-informed care and alcohol or substance use issues, Futures has vast experience. Some of our therapists are trauma survivors themselves and are also in recovery. They know both clinically—and firsthand—how to help individuals find the tools to heal from trauma. 

For more about trauma and addiction treatment read our blog Trauma-Informed Care and Addiction Treatment. To learn more about our Trauma Track, First Responders’ Track, or any of our three substance abuse treatment programs contact us today.  Call anytime at 866-804-2098

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