Substance Abuse Counseling for Trauma and PTSD
Addiction and trauma go hand in hand. Zinnia Health has tools to treat the trauma and PTSD that may be contributing to your addiction.
Trauma often leads to uncomfortable symptoms that may make you feel out of control of your own life. As a way of coping, many people turn to alcohol and other substances to dull the traumatic responses their bodies produce. Unfortunately, these substances can lead to addiction and further health issues.
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Addressing Trauma And Substance Abuse
The relationship between trauma and substance abuse is profound. Alcohol and drugs can initially blunt the negative feelings and unpleasant sensations that come from trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but self-medicating can lead to substance abuse disorders.
Those with trauma-related depression may find themselves medicating with stimulants such as cocaine or methamphetamine, while others might try to soothe their anxiety with alcohol or benzodiazepines.
People with unresolved trauma and PTSD may feel out of control. By turning to substances, they’re simply attempting to cope. Using addictive substances can lead to a number of problems, though, including addiction, which, over time, makes the original symptoms of trauma even worse. The risk-prone behavior that comes with addiction can also lead to new traumas, so that there is a seemingly endless cycle.
In America, around 20.3 million people 12 and older struggled with a substance use disorder in 2017. Around 70 percent of all adults in the country report that they have gone through a traumatic experience of some kind at least once in their lifetime.
It’s the unfortunate truth that around 5 percent of people who have post-traumatic stress disorder do meet the criteria for substance abuse disorders as well. It is too easy to fall into a cycle of trying to numb the symptoms of trauma, which is why it’s necessary to consider trauma focused therapy, PTSD counseling, psychodynamic therapy and other options to overcome the underlying trauma and get back to feeling like yourself again.
What Causes Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a chronic stress and trauma disorder that can arise after any kind of trauma. While it is most often associated with those in the military, you don’t have to have gone to war to develop this condition.
Some people who have post-traumatic stress disorder have gone through serious medical problems. Others have been in automobile accidents or witnessed a major traumatic event.
Those who develop PTSD have almost always gone through an event that involved or threatened a sexual violation, serious injury or death. They may have seen the event, heard it or learned about it in another way.
As for what causes the prolonged symptoms of PTSD, there is still much research to do. Researchers and doctors believe that the reason some people develop this condition is because of a complex mix of issues, such as:
- Having lived through stressful experiences throughout their life
- Inheriting mental health issues from family members, like anxiety or depression
- Not having a good balance of the chemicals in the brain, which predisposes a person to PTSD
- Having an anxious or timid temperament
There are some risk factors for PTSD that you should be aware of. These may include:
- Experiencing an intense or long-lasting trauma
- Having a diagnosed mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression
- Having a history of substance use disorders
- Having a job that exposes you to traumatic events, like working in the military
- Having a history of childhood abuse
- Having relatives with mental health conditions
Some of the common traumatic events that tend to trigger PTSD include:
- Physical assaults
- Sexual violence
- Accidents, like auto accidents or work accidents
- Childhood physical abuse
- Exposure to combat
- Being threatened with a weapon
Not everyone who experiences these traumatic events will go on to develop PTSD. Some will be able to process the trauma and move forward with support. Others will develop chronic symptoms of stress and have a hard time processing what happened to them. This may lead to self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, which can then lead to a substance use disorder. It’s also possible to develop suicidal thoughts, eating disorders and other health issues as a result of untreated PTSD.
Why Is There a Connection Between PTSD, Trauma and Substance Abuse?
There are three hypotheses about why PTSD, trauma and substance abuse are linked. These include:
- The self-medication hypothesis, which suggests that people with PTSD use substances to either cope or try to mitigate and manage their symptoms
- The susceptibility hypothesis, which states that people who use substances are actually more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder after being exposed to trauma
- The high-risk hypothesis, which suggests that people who abuse substances are likely to experience higher rates of trauma because of substance abuse and their lifestyle choices
Since there is a connection between PTSD, trauma and substance abuse, it is important for these diagnoses to be treated simultaneously. Co-occurring disorders tend to have poorer treatment outcomes, especially when only one issue is treated while the other is not.
Signs and Symptoms of Trauma and PTSD
We know now that PTSD and substance abuse are linked. Many people with this and other forms of trauma are seeking safety, but without knowing how to treat PTSD, they may turn to alcohol, drugs or other substances.
Whether the incidents come from childhood or are more recent, unresolved trauma can register both in the body and in behavior. Some signs of trauma and PTSD include:
- Panic attacks
- Low self-esteem
- Sleep disturbances, including nightmares
- Avoidance of triggers
- Physical pain and/or chronic illness
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
- Substance use or abuse
The good news is that trauma can be treated. Someone who is dealing with trauma or PTSD has the potential to overcome it with the right approach.
Treating PTSD, Trauma and Substance Abuse
We believe that while treatment for trauma and PTSD are vital, it’s necessary to make sure you’re physically stable first. Most of the time, our clients begin with detox, so they can eliminate the substances from their systems. The length of time detox takes will depend on the substances that have been used.
For example, alcohol detox could take as little as one to three days with treatment or several weeks when left without treatment. The severity of withdrawal symptoms will depend on how often you were drinking and the amount of alcohol your body was used to.
Drug withdrawal can vary, too. Short-acting opioids, for instance, may cause withdrawal symptoms for four to 10 days on average. Benzodiazepines may cause withdrawal that peaks within the first two weeks. Long-acting opioids may have withdrawal peak within 10 days.
When you combine these substances, it may take longer to go through detox. Our medical team is there to help you manage withdrawal symptoms safely and as comfortably as possible.
As part of your individual treatment plan at Zinnia Health, you can take advantage of trauma therapy, as well as other therapeutic options like cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and rational emotive behavior therapy. Together, these therapies can help you achieve healing and balance — so your trauma no longer controls your emotions and behavior.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of psychological therapy that helps reduce depression and anxiety. It can also be used to treat alcohol and drug dependency and addiction, PTSD and other disorders.
CBT is based on the idea that psychological problems are at least partially a result of unhelpful ways of thinking and learned patterns of unhelpful behavior. People who have psychological issues may be able to learn better coping strategies, which then would help relieve their symptoms.
CBT requires patients to learn to recognize when their thinking is distorted and to learn more about others’ motivations. They will develop problem-solving skills and become more confident in their own abilities.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy is similar to CBT, but it combines mindfulness with learning how to cope with stress, improve relationships and regulate your emotions. This treatment was originally designed to help those with borderline personality disorder, but it has been found to be helpful for those with post-traumatic stress disorder, self-destructive behaviors and other issues.
DBT is unique in that you can complete sessions over the phone, individually or in a group.
Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy
Rational emotive behavior therapy is another kind of psychotherapy that could help. It is similar to both DBT and CBT, but it is a bit different in practice. REBT helps you focus on the present to see how your thoughts and beliefs may create distressing emotional issues for yourself. By understanding your own thoughts and feelings, you may be able to change your actions to result in more positive outcomes.
REBT has been used to help people deal with inappropriate anger, depression, guilt, anxiety and other issues in their lives. REBT evolved from the original work that went into developing cognitive-behavioral therapy, so the two are related (though this does not go back into the past as much as CBT would).
How Does Trauma Therapy Help?
In a traumatic event or situation, your body responds by releasing stress hormones that prevent your brain from processing the event. When we are triggered by something that reminds us of the trauma, the body reacts with a “fight or flight” response. While we are asleep and dreaming, our eyes dart back and forth quickly, which triggers the part of the brain that reprocesses the day’s memories.
Trauma therapy may use EMDR (or eye movement desensitization reprocessing), which simulates those eye movements. This stimulates the brain in order to reprocess the trauma.
Trauma-focused therapy doesn’t just include EMDR, though. There are other forms of trauma therapy, like talk therapy, that will help you learn new skills and strategies to understand, process, and cope with the traumatic experiences that you’ve been through.
In a good trauma therapy program, there are five goals. These are to:
- Reestablish safety
- Identify triggers
- Develop health coping skills
- Decrease stress symptoms
- Practice trauma processing and integration
With these goals in mind, the first step is to help a person feel more comfortable in their environment. Improving a sense of safety by creating a space where they are seen and heard is essential.
Identifying triggers, the next step, helps you learn to explore, understand, express, and identify the triggers that cause you additional stress and further trauma. While you may feel like anxiety or stress comes out of nowhere, the reality is that there is usually a trigger that starts the body’s reaction. Identifying the trigger helps you avoid it or learn to live with it once again.
Healthy coping skills also make a difference. In a trauma-focused session, you will learn to cope with anxiety and stress in a positive way. Anxiety management and relaxation strategies are at the core of this process.
Decreasing the symptoms of a traumatic response comes next. A therapist may help you practice skills to decrease the physical and emotional symptoms that you go through after being triggered. This will help decrease the likelihood of and severity of panic attacks, flashbacks, and nightmares, as well as other negative feelings.
Finally, the fifth stage is to focus on trauma processing and integration. You can help yourself regain your own power by taking control over your history. You can essentially rewrite your story with the right help.
Healing From Trauma and Substance Abuse at Zinnia Health
While trauma therapy has the potential to feel intense at first, it can provide a powerful sense of relief both psychologically and physically. You deserve to feel better, and you can with the right support. Whether you opt to go through an inpatient program or you work with an outpatient therapist, the right team will get you on a path to recovery. In just a few short weeks, you can be feeling better about your future.
To learn more about how Zinnia Health treats PTSD, trauma, and substance abuse, please reach out today. We’re here for you and will help you overcome the challenges that you’re dealing with.