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Treating Trauma is Paramount in Treating Addiction

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Experiencing or being exposed to violence is one of the leading causes of trauma. We all experience trauma differently. For some it could be from sustaining an injury during a car accident. For others it could be from experiencing military combat. Others could have been subjected to physical, emotional or sexual abuse. As much as 70 percent of the general population has experienced some form of individual trauma. 

International Day of Non-Violence takes place each year on October 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, a leader in the movement of peaceful philosophy and strategy and of the Indian independence movement. Its commemoration was established by the United Nations in 2007 to “disseminate the message of non-violence, including through education and public awareness.” Knowing how to help someone with PTSD through behavioral therapies can help them recover not only from this mental illness, but from drug and alcohol abuse as well. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines trauma as the result of “an event, series of events, or set of circumstances experienced by an individual that is physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”

What is PTSD?

Immediately following a traumatic event, the brain experiences an increased level of endorphins which help to numb both emotional and physical pain.  When the endorphin level gradually falls, the individual who experienced the traumatic event will likely feel emotional distress. The withdrawal from endorphins is known as post-traumatic stress.  

Close to eight percent of the traumatized population will develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As much as two-thirds of that population develops a substance use disorder. One hypothesis is that alcohol consumption and drug use are meant to compensate for the endorphin deficiency experienced after a traumatic event. 

“The effects of trauma and violence, are things that people use drugs and alcohol to medicate or numb out, so learning to deal with that pain should be a main focus of ongoing treatment and recovery efforts,” said Rachel Markus, LCSW, the clinical director of Foundations Recovery Center. “I’ve only had a handful of clients in substance abuse treatment throughout my career who were not in some way affected by trauma.” 

Those who experience symptoms of PTSD will exhibit them in a variety of ways including but not limited to a reexperience of the traumatic event in the form of flashbacks or nightmares, hyper-arousal and heightened responses to being startled, estrangement from the external world, and avoidance of people, places and situations that might remind them of their traumatic event.  

Treatment for PTSD and Addiction

No matter what the cause of the PTSD and addiction dual diagnosis is, it is important that each condition be treated, as one will likely exacerbate the other. As much as half of the population that seeks treatment for substance use disorders meet criteria of current PTSD and tend to have poorer results from their treatment if they don’t address their trauma. 

“Trauma informed treatment must guide everything in holistic recovery. An individual who presents at one of our centers needing help with a substance has by default compromised priorities, values, and virtues they would normally thrive in. Substance dependence within itself is a trauma,” said Jessica Loper, clinical director of Atlanta Center for Mental Health.

“The Adverse Childhood Experience Scale (ACE) is one of the most empirically validated and longitudinally sound instruments in existence that has captured the detrimental tie between trauma before age 18 and addiction. Any score on this 10 item scale makes a person four times more likely to use drugs or alcohol for coping and a score of 5 or more increases the risk of early mortality, IV drug use and legal involvement exponentially. The story does not end there. PTSD is a curable condition. The implications for treatment are clear, get to the core/heart of what is driving the need to self-medicate. Allow a person the consistent structure, support, and love while providing that resolution and hope; that’s the birthplace of recovery.”

If you or a loved one has experienced trauma, are feeling the effects of PTSD and have turned to drugs or alcohol to cope, you are not alone and there is help.  

At Amatus Recovery Centers across the country, we offer a full continuum of drug and alcohol treatment, from medical assisted detox to long-term group therapy aftercare.  

The easiest way to recover from alcoholism is to seek help. Call an admissions specialist today at 833-216-3079 to learn about our addiction treatment options and determine which one is right for you.  

Amatus Recovery Centers, a division of Amatus Health, offers treatment for drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders in facilities across the country. To learn more visit amatusrecoverycenters.com.