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Trauma and Addiction

Trauma and Addiction, Part 1: A War on Two Fronts

For many addicts battling against the urges to use their drug of choice, addiction and trauma go hand-in-hand. This means that the client who is seeking help for addiction treatment is fighting a war on two fronts. He has to deal with his addiction, and he also has to deal with the trauma and his memories of it.

Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes. Statistics tell us that over 95 percent of addicts have experienced some kind of trauma.  For many people, it goes way back to a childhood where there was physical, sexual, or verbal abuse. Women experience those same kinds of abuses—and twice as many women as men suffer from the dual diagnosis of addiction and trauma. The people who have served in the military often come home suffering from the traumas of war. Those kinds of trauma are long-term, and it can take years to get over them. There are also one-off events, such as a car accident, an attack by a criminal, or a weather disaster like a tornado. Trauma means more than just ripping the skin—it can be anything that rips away your self-confidence and sense of well-being.

You’ve heard the term PTSD—post traumatic stress disorder. Most people use it to describe wounded war veterans, but it refers to anyone who has suffered stress from the kinds of trauma described above. You might respond to these events by feeling constantly on edge and expecting danger. Trauma victims report being startled easily and also problems with sleeping.

Sometimes memories of the event will return suddenly to your mind. A flashback makes you feel as if the trauma is happening again, or you might have nightmares about what happened. Some people blame themselves. They believe that the event wouldn’t have happened if they had been smarter, stronger, younger, or whatever. They may get angry at a loved one who caused the trauma or who, in their view, could have prevented it. They fear the world because they perceive it as a dangerous place, and they lose interest in old hobbies or even in having sex. No wonder that so many people turn to substance abuse in order to stop this damaging cycle of thoughts.

The person who has suffered physical injury has to deal with his physical rehabilitation and be watchful of becoming addicted to painkillers. If there has not been a physical injury, the person might ask his doctor for an anxiolytic like Valium or Zoloft and then begin abusing it, or maybe he’ll just start drinking too much.

So what can you do to stop substance abuse caused by trauma, and also heal yourself from the trauma? It takes work on two fronts: You have to treat the trauma, and you have to treat the addiction. Almost all substance abuse rehab centers offer in-house counseling for stress or anxiety. The counselors there can help you find specialists for the kind of care that you need, if they don’t offer it in-house.

The best rehab centers offer a variety of therapies to help you get through trauma and manage your recovery. Can you imagine the peace you would feel communing with an animal, through equine therapy, for example? You might also benefit from movement classes, because once you get your body moving your mind will follow. Massage, yoga, and relaxation techniques are all part of success drug rehab therapy.

Believe it or not, there are ways to manage your urges and cravings. This is too big to do alone, and it really takes the help of a substance abuse specialist for a person to manage both addiction and trauma. Watch for our next posting, which will discuss ways to get through both anxiety and cravings.  

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