Trauma-Informed Care In Addiction Recovery

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Trauma-informed therapy focuses specifically on treatment programs to support healing from trauma. It helps people with and without addictions to process feelings and learn healthy coping skills.

Trauma-Informed Care In Addiction Recovery

Many people with addictions suffer from trauma. Trauma often triggers a complex set of emotions. The impact of trauma can extend to all areas of a person’s life and have life-long effects.

Not everyone with trauma will develop a substance use disorder (SUD). However, for some people, addiction is a response to coping with heavy emotions.

Trauma-informed therapy is one of the many forms of therapy that can help people with addictions. This form of therapy works to address trauma, of which substance abuse may be a symptom.

What Is Trauma?

Trauma is a person’s emotional response to an intensely disturbing, physically harmful, or life-threatening event. It can deeply affect a person’s mental, physical, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being.

Trauma can result from a single experience or a series of events. It can also occur at any point in a person’s life.

Trauma is unique to everyone: What is traumatic for one person might not be for another. While some people move forward seemingly without any issues, others may suffer long-term effects.

Trauma-Inducing Situations

There are many life experiences that can cause trauma.

Trauma-inducing events include but are not limited to:

  • abuse or neglect
  • domestic violence
  • emotional or verbal abuse
  • experiencing or witnessing acts of violence
  • hospitalization
  • natural disasters
  • physical abuse
  • road accidents
  • sexual abuse or assault
  • spiritual or religious abuse
  • the sudden or violent death of a loved one
  • war

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) refer to trauma experienced by children under the age of 18.

ACEs entail many of the traumas listed above, but may also include:

  • having a family member or caregiver with a mental health condition
  • parental divorce
  • having a caregiver with a substance abuse issue
  • having a member of the household in prison

Trauma caused by ACEs can significantly affect brain development. The effects of past trauma can impact a child’s decision-making skills, learning capacity, and ability to form healthy relationships.

Symptoms Of Trauma

The nature of traumatic events may differ significantly. One person’s trauma will not necessarily resemble another person’s trauma.

In the aftermath of a traumatic event, a person may experience shock and denial. This response is the brain’s way of attempting to process what happened.

 In the long term, signs of trauma may include but are not limited to: 

  • unstable emotions
  • hyperawareness
  • becoming withdrawn
  • irritability
  • intrusive thoughts
  • fear
  • guilt
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • physical symptoms, such as headaches or appetite changes

These symptoms reflect the brain’s continued attempt to process the experience. Without help from a licensed professional, the brain may struggle to make sense of the event and associated emotions.

The Relationship Between Trauma And Addiction

Not everyone who experiences trauma will develop an addiction. However, there is a clear connection between traumatic experiences and addiction.

Trauma-informed care has proven particularly helpful for people with addictions. Therapy can help a person address their addiction as they cope with their trauma.

The theory of self-medication suggests that people may turn to addictive substances or behaviors to self-soothe. In this context, addiction serves as a coping mechanism.

While this may provide temporary relief from pervasive thoughts or difficult emotions, a reliance on substances can quickly develop into an addiction.

How Trauma Increases The Risk Of Substance Abuse

Trauma survivors may encounter a spectrum of heavy emotions known as traumatic stress. Traumatic stress may include feelings of guilt, shame, anxiety, flashbacks, dread, and general unease.

People are not born with healthy coping mechanisms in place. Rather, they must be learned throughout childhood and adulthood.

Without a guide or stable support, people may cope using any available resources, including drugs or alcohol. For this reason, trauma can serve as the root cause of addiction.

10 Types Of Trauma-Informed Therapy In Addiction Recovery

There are many types of trauma-informed therapy available, depending on the person and their needs. Here are 10 of the most common trauma-informed approaches to recovery.


Brainspotting combines aspects of mindfulness, mind-body connection, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.

The therapist helps the client process trauma by associating eye positions with specific memories.

Brief Eclectic Psychotherapy (BEP)

Brief eclectic psychotherapy is a shorter-term therapy that is designed to accommodate a person’s specific needs. The focus is on processing feelings of guilt, shame, and anxiety.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on identifying thoughts that lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. The client is guided to replace these thoughts with positive ones.

 Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

Cognitive processing therapy is commonly used to address symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Talk therapy is used to help clients who feel stuck in their emotions or experience.

 Comprehensive Resource Model (CRM)

CRM combines holistic elements of deep breathing and mindfulness. The goal is to help the client reprocess and release emotions from trauma.

 Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavior therapy is designed for people experiencing intense emotions. It focuses on helping the person better regulate their emotions and develop new coping skills.

 Eye Movement Desensitization And Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy focuses on changing the way a memory is stored so it can be processed. Eye movements or rhythmic tapping are used to support the process.

 Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET)

Narrative exposure therapy is a short-term treatment that uses storytelling to help a person better understand their emotions and experience.

 Prolonged Exposure (PE)

Prolonged exposure therapy helps a person work through painful memories and participate in activities they have been avoiding due to their trauma.

 Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)

TF-CBT helps the person process distorted beliefs and learn coping skills. This therapy is specifically designed for adolescents and teenagers under the age of 18.

Guiding Principles Of Trauma-Informed Care

Therapists rely on five guiding principles to administer trauma-informed care. These principles work to ensure that a client feels secure, supported, and comfortable throughout the experience.

The five guiding principles of trauma-informed care are:

  • emotional safety
  • choice
  • collaboration
  • trustworthiness
  • empowerment

These principles help the person trust their therapist and the process, ensuring better outcomes.

FAQs About Trauma-Informed Therapy In Substance Abuse Recovery

If you’re interested in learning more about trauma-informed care for yourself or a loved one, review some of the commonly asked questions below.

Trauma-informed therapy works by helping people learn how to process their complex emotions. This form of therapy uses evidence-based practices to ensure the person feels safe, comfortable, and supported throughout.

In trauma-informed care, therapists tailor treatment to revolve around the person’s behaviors, triggers, and needs. Trauma is the focal point and healing is the goal.

Evidence shows that trauma-informed care is effective in addressing trauma. It helps people to identify the root cause of their symptoms and learn healthy coping skills.

Trauma-informed therapy also strongly emphasizes the role of a safe and secure environment. The goal for healthcare providers is to avoid re-traumatization and help the person move forward.

Trauma can be the root cause of addiction for some people; however, not everyone who experiences trauma will develop a substance use disorder.

People process and cope with trauma differently, and it may not always lead to substance misuse.

Additionally, addiction can be caused by any number of factors separate from trauma, including mental health disorders, financial instability, stress, lack of access to proper health care, and more.

Discover Addiction Treatment Options

Addiction is a complex disorder, especially when combined with the effects of trauma, but treatment is available.

If you or a loved one is dealing with substance abuse, call today to learn more.



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