There is a proven link between past trauma and addiction, as those struggling with the after-effects of a traumatic experience seek ways to manage their symptoms. Understanding the role that trauma plays in addiction is essential for effective, successful treatment.
Is a past traumatic experience weighing on your psyche more than you might realise? Are you struggling to cope with the lingering effects of a negative event or experiences? Trauma can have profound reverberations throughout a person’s life and can play a role in developing an addiction. Trauma-informed therapy explores the role of trauma in addiction and other co-occurring disorders in order to fully address the root causes of addiction and mental health issues.
What is Trauma?
People often associate trauma with the personal experience of major life events, crises, or violations such as:
- Combat violence
- Physical or sexual assault
- Physical of sexual abuse
- Natural disaster
- Serious injury
However, you don’t always have to experience these events yourself to develop trauma. In fact, people who witness these things happening to others, find out that these happened to a close friend or relative, or are repeatedly exposed to the graphic details of these events can also develop trauma.
Understanding the effects of childhood trauma
Ongoing hardships in childhood can also result in trauma. These stressors are known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and have the potential to create wide-ranging and serious effects on a person’s physical, mental and emotional health. Research has identified ten ACEs, including:
- Loss of a parent due to separation, divorce, or death
- Seeing violence committed towards the mother
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Physical neglect
- Emotional neglect
- Mental illness in a parent or guardian
- Addiction in a parent or guardian
- Having a relative imprisoned
Many people have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lives, with one study estimating that as many as 70% of adults in the United States have lived through a severe trauma.
What are the Impacts of Trauma?
Trauma causes significant changes in the brain, altering neural functioning and impacting the ability of a person to regulate their moods and emotions. This can factor into the development of a variety of mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addiction, depression, anxiety, and challenges in forming relationships.
The body’s reaction to trauma is also significant, and people often develop physical ailments in response to the psychological weight of what has happened. These can include things like:
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Trouble sleeping
- Being easily startled
- Muscle tension
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Unexplained aches and pains
Trauma and Addiction
There is a wide body of research that has explored the links between trauma and addiction. Studies of ACEs and addiction have confirmed a link between the number of ACEs experienced and an increase in the risk for addiction, with four or more ACEs being linked to a threefold increase in the potential for alcohol misuse in adulthood.
Many who struggle with trauma use substances to cope with the lingering effects of their experience. Trauma can cause a chronic disruption of the body’s stress regulation system. This then results in a feeling of hyperarousal, or constant alertness, and anxiety that some may attempt to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.
In other cases, trauma may leave people feeling numb and struggling to connect emotionally. This can also fuel a potential for addiction, as alcohol or stimulants can promote feelings of warmth and connectedness that might otherwise be absent.
Understanding what type of role trauma plays in addiction is a critical part in identifying and addressing the root causes and drivers of addiction in treatment.
How is Trauma-Informed Therapy Different?
Trauma-informed therapeutic techniques work to specifically understand the consequences of trauma in order to promote a full, lasting recovery from addiction. They combine trauma-focused approaches with cognitive behavioural therapies (CBT) to explore and address the impacts of trauma. These techniques typically contain a number of specialised components, including:
- Building skills – in order to regulate the challenge and discomfort caused by trauma, clients learn new coping skills to promote relaxation and manage emotions in stressful situations
- Changing patterns – trauma causes specific patterns of thought to form that are often at odds with the reality of the present. Trauma-informed therapy helps to reform these patterns to adapt out of a trauma mindset.
- Gradual exposure – clients are slowly and gently reintroduced to trauma triggers in order to help lower fear or avoidance
- Education – therapists help the clients to learn more about trauma, how it impacts the brain, and its long-term effects in order to better understand their reactions and normalise their experiences
- Trauma narrative – therapists help guide their clients as they process their trauma in a safe and supportive space
These components are key in helping people express and come to terms with their trauma so that they may be able to move forward in a healthier way.
What are Different Types of Trauma-Informed Therapy?
Trauma has complex impacts on the brain, and therefore requires professional, holistic treatment in order to fully address the effects of trauma and its relationship to addiction. An addiction and mental health specialist may recommend a range of trauma-specific treatment modalities, which can include things like:
Trauma-focused CBT is a type of cognitive behavioural therapy that addresses the mental and emotional needs of trauma survivors who are struggling to overcome the damaging effects of past traumatic events.
Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT)
DBT has emerged as an effective therapeutic approach for those dealing with the impacts of trauma, and combines elements of CBT, mindfulness, and acceptance. Specifically, DBT helps to build skills in managing emotions, tolerating stress, improving mindfulness, and engaging interpersonally.
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR is a type of psychotherapy that processes a past traumatic event through the practice of specific eye movements, which helps rebuild positive pathways within the mind and results in stronger coping mechanisms that can shield the individual from negative thought patterns.
Exposure therapy aims to reduce the fear around trauma triggers, which tend to be dealt with through avoidance, or numbed via substance use. Exposure therapy involves the slow and careful reintroduction of things that trigger a fear response in order to help the mind and body readjust.
Tension and trauma-releasing exercises
These basic exercises are designed to help relieve tension and release stress stored in the body, decreasing the intensity of trauma-related symptoms.
Overcoming Trauma and Addiction at The Dawn Rehab Thailand
The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab Thailand caters to an international client base and offers comprehensive mental health and addiction treatment, including trauma-informed therapy. Our approach to treatment focuses on healing both the mind and body through the seamless integration of the most effective psychotherapeutic techniques with proven wellness practices. Key components of our trauma treatment programme include:
- Trauma reduction therapy (TRT)
- Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT)
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
- Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (TF-CBT)
- Visualisation therapy
- Trauma release exercises (TRE)
- Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)
A Safe Haven Conducive to Recovery
Located on the outskirts of Chiang Mai along the banks of the Ping River, The Dawn is an oasis of calm surrounded by picturesque rice fields and traditional Thai villages. Our resort-style facilities in lush gardens are a world away from the triggers and stressors of home.
With no more than 25 residents at any time, our clients feel at home and safe at The Dawn, enabling them to focus on getting better. Internationally accredited by the American Accreditation Commission International and licensed by the Thai Ministry of Health, The Dawn offers professional, high-quality, personalised care to all its clients. Call us today to learn more about how we can help you overcome trauma and addiction.