This is part three of the three-part series, Trauma-Informed Addiction Treatment and Research-Based Interventions. Read part two, The Relationship Between Trauma and Substance Abuse
In the past decade, there has been a major shift in the methods of treating substance use disorders. As research continues to show addiction as a condition in which brain reward circuitry is rewired, treatment programs have responded by treating substance use from a holistic lens.
Holistic care treats the whole person, and not just a victim of a set of symptoms. Rather than attempting to “cure” addiction, treatment has progressed towards understanding a person’s history, strengths, genetic and environmental factors and resilience.
Included in this holistic treatment is what has been coined “trauma-informed care.” In this article, we’ll look at what trauma-informed care is, why it’s important in healing drug and alcohol abuse and common approaches to this form of therapy.
What is trauma-informed care?
Understanding trauma-informed care first starts with a basic definition of trauma. While trauma encompasses a wide range of experiences, trauma in the clinical sense refers to a single event, repeated event or dangerous environment that is experienced as emotionally or physically threatening or harmful and has lasting negative impacts on a person’s life.
Trauma includes events such as physical or sexual abuse, childhood neglect, the experience of a serious accident or injury, medical trauma, witnessing violence, experiencing a natural disaster or having a family member with a mental health or substance use disorder. While some individuals live through these experiences and the effects reside over time, for others the effects linger and make normal life difficult. When this happens, a person experiences trauma.
When answering “what is trauma-informed care?” it’s important to note that trauma isn’t part of everyone’s experience. However, due to the significant overlapping of trauma and substance use risk factors, sensitivity to a background of trauma in a person’s life can make treatment more effective.
Trauma-informed care swaps the framework for treatment from “what is wrong with you?” to “what happened to you?” This key paradigm shift allows providers to understand the circumstances underlying the onset and perpetuation of substance use.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, trauma-informed care allows for the following changes in traditional treatment administration.
- Increase in understanding regarding the widespread impact of trauma on a person’s social, emotional, mental, physical and spiritual life
- A greater variety in avenues of treatment and markers of treatment success
- Increased awareness regarding the signs and symptoms of trauma and how they may exacerbate substance use disorders
- Integrating trauma-informed care into policies and procedures
- Improving efforts to avoid re-traumatization (or re-living trauma on the part of the client)
For a person who has experienced trauma, addiction treatment can now be catered to those unique experiences and recovery programs will be more effective.
Why does trauma-informed care matter in addiction treatment?
Utilizing one of the trauma-informed approaches in addiction treatment can be more effective than generalized treatment for numerous reasons. First, trauma-informed care provides a safe setting for those who may struggle to manage the residual effects of past experiences. A huge barrier to treatment is a feeling of discomfort, and trauma triggers can cause major regressions in recovery.
Trauma is a risk factor for substance use. Thus, many individuals who struggle with substance use are also currently dealing with symptoms of trauma or PTSD. Moreover, trauma-informed care is personalized treatment from a holistic lens. Even for those who haven’t experienced trauma, care that is aimed at addressing and healing the past can help people understand the root of their addiction and overcome it.
Common trauma-informed approaches in addiction treatment
There are numerous methods of trauma-informed treatment. While some of these frameworks stem from trauma research, others are traditional theories of treatment to which trauma-informed care can be easily applied. Here are the most commonly used and successful evidence-based interventions for trauma-informed approaches in addiction treatment.
Seeking Safety Therapy is a program of care that utilizes counseling for individuals who struggle with trauma, PTSD and substance abuse. At the core of this model, individuals are taught to focus on regaining a sense of safety in the present moment. Many of those who live through traumatic experiences lack feelings of security and stability in normal life, and this treatment approach attempts to restore that sense.
Risking Connection is another trauma-informed care program for mental health and substance use. Professionals emphasize relationships as the central aim of the process through respect, sharing, connection and hope. This method seeks to empower and collaborate between clients and caregivers.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a popular method of mindfulness in recovery. ACT teaches individuals how to pay attention to their own thoughts and feelings throughout the day. Through various exercises, a person learns where thought patterns are negative or constructive and ways to manage them.
The six core processes of ACT are:
- Acceptance over avoidance
- Cognitive diffusion techniques help individuals change the way they interact with their thoughts
- Being present in a non-judgmental way
- Self as context, or being aware of one’s own experiences without attachment
- Values, or one’s judgments of what is important in life
- Committed action, or developing larger patterns of healthy behaviors linked to chosen values
Mindfulness in recovery allows individuals to feel in control of their decision-making.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy is another mindfulness-based intervention designed to help clients develop skills for managing difficult emotions and reducing conflict in their relationships. Problematic behaviors evolve as coping mechanisms, and while they may offer short-term relief, these behaviors lead to more problems in the long term.
DBT helps clients learn new behaviors and enhance their capabilities by learning new coping skills in a variety of areas, including:
- Distress tolerance
- Regulating emotions
- Interpersonal relationships
DBT is an evidence-based therapy that’s been shown to reduce suicidal behaviors, self-injury, substance abuse and anger resulting from past trauma.
Trauma permeates all areas of an individual’s life, and when it co-occurs with a substance use disorder, the result is often devastating to their relationships, physical and mental health, finances, quality of life and sense of well-being.
Through trauma-informed approaches in addiction treatment at Silvermist Recovery, individuals can safely and effectively restore their lives after trauma and end an addiction for the long term. Get in touch now to heal your past.