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Safely Integrating Trauma and Substance Abuse Treatment

Trauma is a mental health issue that many providers are still reluctant to address in the early stages of substance abuse treatment.  The fear is that relapse might be triggered if the newly abstinent client is confronted with strong feelings produced by discussing the client’s trauma history. 

However, the latest research identifies experiencing trauma as a major risk factor in developing compulsive behaviors or a substance use disorder (Mate, 2011).  Additionally, the experience of trauma, past and present, is identified as a primary relapse risk factor. (Mate, 2011 and Covington, 2011).  As a result of the current statistics about the prevalence of violence in our culture and the significant relationship between compulsive behaviors/substance abuse disorders and trauma, it is recommended that effective substance abuse treatment should be “trauma-informed” (Covington, 2011). 

The New Mexico Professionals Resource Network, LLC (New Mexico PRN) addresses trauma during addiction treatment using a three stage trauma treatment model that is based on the research of Judith Herman, MD and Stephanie Covington, PhD, LCSW.  This model begins with the establishment of personal safety and engagement in appropriate self care and skill building activities.  Once safety, self care, and skills are established, the work of remembering and grieving begins.  Resolution and reconnection concludes the process. 

Trauma treatment is safely integrated into the substance abuse treatment process at New Mexico PRN through the provision of research based, gender specific, and culturally sensitive services that are structured to match the individual’s needs and strengths.  Individual preferences and learning styles are accommodated through the use of verbal, written, creative, and experiential techniques and resources. 

The New Mexico PRN’s approach to substance abuse treatment is to help clients to establish a healthy mind, body, spirit connection and thereby to find joy, understanding, acceptance, gratitude, and forgiveness in their daily lives.  Identifying and resolving traumatic experiences is an essential part of this work. 

Connie Merrell-McDonald, MA, LPCC, LPAT, LADAC, CEAP, SAP

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