Trauma Informed Care: The Importance of Treating PTSD In Drug Rehab

Learn how to empower patients and treat underlying trauma to prevent SUD.  

Table of Contents

What is Trauma

Trauma is the result of a single event or series of events that leave a lasting negative impression on a person. These events or incidents are extremely distressing, emotionally disturbing, and often life-threatening. Trauma can occur at any stage in life, but it most commonly occurs in young childhood. Childhood trauma often causes lasting complications and lifelong difficulties.1

Extreme trauma at an early age can cause significant chronic health problems and mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, eating disorders, and more. These responses are due to the effect that trauma has on the brain. It causes cortisol and adrenaline to be released in excess and can cause cognitive impairment in the parts of the brain that control memory function and emotional regulation.

What Causes Trauma

Many things can cause trauma, and trauma can be experienced at any age. Some of the most common causes of trauma include (2):

  • Abuse (Emotional, physical, or mental)
  • Neglect
  • Sexual assault
  • Poverty
  • Sudden loss of a loved one
  • Living with a person that abuses illicit substances
  • War or terrorism

Certain things can cause trauma immediately after the event, such as in cases of sexual assault, terrorism, or being in a warzone. In other cases, trauma can develop gradually, as is the case of childhood abuse or neglect and poverty.

While these aspects may not cause immediately recognizable trauma, they are almost certain to cause the development of mental health conditions in the future. Nearly all victims of childhood trauma develop a heightened stress response which leads to physical complications such as difficulty sleeping, lowered immune response, and chronic health problems as an adult. 3

Types of Trauma

There are many different types of trauma. The most common are childhood trauma, emotional trauma, psychological trauma, and physical trauma.

Childhood Trauma

This type of trauma is emotional, physical, mental, or sexual abuse or neglect that occurs at any point during childhood and is usually caused by a primary caregiver, parent, or sibling. Typically, this trauma is caused by someone the child trusts and that they are close to.

This type of abuse is impossible for a child’s mind to completely comprehend and almost always results in some form of trauma or mental health condition. The sooner that a child can be removed from the abusive environment and can start treatment, the more effective the treatment will be.

This type of abuse and trauma is more common in areas with high poverty rates, high crime rates, families with a history of abuse, incarceration, or drug and alcohol abuse. 4

Emotional Trauma and Psychological Trauma

These types of trauma can be caused at any age, and they are most commonly caused by loved ones, friends, or family members. Some examples of emotional trauma and psychological trauma are school bullying, ongoing stress caused by poverty, chronic illness, etc., or the sudden loss of a loved one.

Additionally, certain types of verbal and emotional abuse in domestic relationships or caregiver/child relationships can cause lasting emotional and psychological trauma.

Physical Trauma

This type of trauma can be the result of physical abuse in a domestic violence situation, or it could be the result of a one-off event like a car accident or a surgery that went poorly.

What is PTSD

PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological diagnosis that occurs after a person witnesses or experiences a severely traumatizing event. At one time, it was believed that only soldiers could develop PTSD and it was called “shell shock”.

Now, however, it is realized that anybody can have a diagnosis of PTSD. Certain types of trauma that can cause PTSD are rape or sexual assault, severe abuse or neglect, war, terrorism, natural disasters, being kidnapped, and more.

Those who have PTSD experience intense and disturbing thoughts, nightmares, and flashbacks to the event that caused their trauma. They often have extremely strong and negative reactions to things that trigger them such as fireworks, loud noises, being grabbed from behind, etc. 5

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

Some signs or symptoms may indicate if someone has PTSD or has experienced some sort of significant trauma. In these situations, early diagnosis is extremely important. The sooner that trauma therapy can begin, the more the trauma therapy will be. These are some of the symptoms of PTSD:

If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these symptoms after a traumatic event, seek professional care. PTSD treatment is effective and is often necessary to help a person learn how to cope with their experience and their feelings. PTSD treatment can also help a person learn relaxation techniques and other methods of grounding for when they feel overwhelmed. 6

How is PTSD Linked to Addiction?

People who have experienced a traumatic event and have PTSD are more than 14 times as likely to be diagnosed with a substance use disorder (SUD). This disorder is often the result of people trying to self-medicate to numb their feelings or to escape their feelings for a time. Early PTSD treatment is important in helping to avoid substance abuse or other unhealthy coping mechanisms.

There is a high correlation between people who drink heavily or use drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, and significant unresolved trauma in their past. Unfortunately, the usage of drugs or alcohol to try to medicate feelings, emotions, or symptoms of PTSD only ends up exacerbating and worsening the problem, causing the person with PTSD to drink or use more to become numb again.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

It can be difficult at first to tell if someone that you care about is using drugs or abusing alcohol, however, there are some signs to look for. If you notice any of these signs, seek professional help immediately for PTSD treatment:

Being argumentative when asked about substance use

Changes in spending habits

Poor impulse control

Irresponsible with finances

Noticeable changes in behavior or mood swings

Significant weight loss or weight gain in a short period

A drastic change in appetite

Lack of motivation

Poor work performance

Poor hygiene

What is Trauma Informed Care?

Trauma informed care is the practice of shifting the focus from the symptoms a person is experiencing to instead the event that caused the person’s trauma. Rather than asking “what is wrong with this person?” instead ask “what has happened to this person?”. This method of care is more patient-focused and helps to avoid retraumatization in treatment, particularly in PTSD treatment.

There are five main principles to trauma informed care: safety, choice, collaboration, trustworthiness, and empowerment. The key to this care is to create an emotionally and physically safe environment at all levels of interaction for the patient to feel comfortable and be able to trust their health care professionals.

The patient should be involved at every level of their care and should be informed of everything that is happening to them alongside all treatments, procedures, and tests that need to be done. This treatment gives them control of the situation and allows them to ask any questions that they need to feel more comfortable.

By creating an environment of mutual trust, respect, and understanding, health care professionals can provide better, more impactful care and can help prevent SUD and other co-occurring conditions.

Trauma Informed Care in Addiction Treatment

By approaching patients in addiction treatment and SUD treatment programs with trauma informed care, a medical practitioner can more effectively understand the situations and events that led the patient to their SUD. By better understanding a patient’s past, they can choose the proper treatment options that will be the most effective and that will cause the least amount of additional trauma or retraumatization.

It is important to note that patients with untreated PTSD are five times more likely than the general population to have a coexisting SUD. By treating patients with SUD as if they potentially have an underlying trauma, doctors can take better care of their patients.

Trauma informed care also asks that doctors help patients focus on the future as well as on goals and aspirations that they hope to achieve and work towards. This method helps them create an action plan that will promote active recovery and that is more effective than traditional therapy alone.

SUD and PTSD Treatment Models

Some specific treatment models for SUD and PTSD are:

  • ATRIUM
  • Helping Women Recover
  • Seeking Safety
  • TREM
  • Triad

If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
(888) 744-9969 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

Related Content