When Does Coping Go Self-Destructive? Trauma and the Pattern of Addiction: Part 2

Read the first part here: When Does Coping Go Self-Destructive? Trauma and the Pattern of Addiction

What is the Nature of the Connection?

Trauma is often defined as an intense stressor that causes physical or emotional harm from which you cannot remove yourself.  It can be caused by abuse or neglect as well as other painful or frightening experiences, such as a car wreck, bullying, or a sudden life change or near-death experience.

It can also result from growing up in an alcoholic or addicted home or any other environment where children are taught to bury their feelings and keep the secrets of the abusive parent for fear of reprisal. In these circumstances, individuals frequently feel intense fear or helplessness.

And recent research clearly indicates that repeated exposure to trauma can actually change the way key areas of our brains function so that we are more likely to replay painful memories and default to a “fight or flight” mode in which we automatically prepare to defend against threats (read lots of adrenaline and cortisol coursing through the system and lots of anxiety).

People – children especially – caught in the midst of what seems like an ever-present sense of pain, fear, or unpredictability often respond quite naturally by seeking to a) exert some control over things out of their control or b) escape the uncomfortable feelings entirely, or both.

What begins as a very natural human response to numb, disconnect from, or relax intense feelings in order to experience relief or safety can manifest itself in excessive substance use as a form of self-medication.  Victims of trauma who use or drink also commonly report a feeling of camaraderie or unconditional acceptance among other drug users, in some ways mimicking the close and loving family unit they likely never had.

Treatment for Dual Diagnosis Patients

A dual diagnosis of co-occurring drug addiction and psychological trauma can be challenging. Whatever purpose drug use initially served for trauma victims, what begins as one problem (unresolved trauma) soon becomes complicated by a second serious problem (substance abuse or other high-risk behaviors), until the coping behaviors become so disruptive that treatment is needed.

The most effective kind of treatment for this combined condition is care that is specifically designed to simultaneously target both psychological traumas as well as addiction.

To prevent further mental and emotional harm and guard against relapse with substances, it is up to treatment professionals to recognize the prevalence of trauma among addiction sufferers, routinely screen for trauma symptoms, and deliver the integrated, multidisciplinary treatment that has proven effective in treating co-occurring disorders.

Because fear is often at the heart of trauma victims’ response to the world, care must work to address those fears and cultivate a prevailing sense of safety and trust.  BTG has extensive experience addressing the needs of dual diagnosis patients. We not only use a multi-disciplinary approach to substance abuse treatment that addresses clients’ underlying or complicating issues, we regularly collaborate with specialists with clinical expertise in trauma.

For more information about our programs or to schedule an initial assessment, call 540-535-1111.

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