Trauma and Addiction

Exploring the Relationship Between Addiction and Trauma

When we hear the word “trauma,” many of us think of a soldier returning from combat duty and suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But trauma doesn’t only come from experiences in military service. Trauma can come from myriad events, including being the victim of, or witness to, violent crime; experiencing physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; developing a serious illness or chronic health condition; sustaining a serious injury; being in a car accident, or losing a loved one. In addition, a person doesn’t have to meet all the clinical criteria of PTSD to be suffering from trauma.

In thinking about trauma, it’s important to understand that everyone has a unique experience with trauma--what causes PTSD in one person may barely cause a reaction in another. For example, two women are in car accidents. Both sustain non-life-threatening injuries, and the cars are totaled. The first woman recovers from her injuries, gets another car, and goes on with her life. The second woman recovers from her physical injuries, gets another car, but develops PTSD. Every time she gets behind the wheel of a car, she experiences debilitating panic attacks. It is three years before she can confidently drive. This example serves as a reminder that every person is unique and experiences life’s events differently. Trauma is trauma, no matter how big or small the originating event may seem to others. If people are made to feel like they are “overreacting,” or that they need to “just get over it,” they may feel ashamed and may not seek out the psychological help that they need.

What Are The Symptoms of PTSD?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), outlines the types of symptoms that a person suffering from PTSD may exhibit. As explained by staff at Enlightened Solutions, these symptoms are grouped into four categories:

  • Intrusive symptoms--including flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, bodily sensations;
  • Avoidance symptoms--attempts to avoid thoughts, conversations, people, places, sounds, situations, or images that remind the person with PTSD of the trauma;
  • Negative cognition or mood symptoms--depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, shame, blame, anger, horror, negative thoughts, dissociative symptoms, fuzzy memory of the events, lack of positive emotions; and
  • Altered reactions--irritability, hypervigilance (always feeling “on edge”), aggressive behavior, self-destructive behavior, difficulty with interpersonal relationships, poor concentration, poor sleep.

Addiction--A Symptom of Trauma?

Trauma frequently leads to alcohol or drug addiction. Many mental health care professionals have indicated that trauma can be an indicator of addiction. In a report published by the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS), 75% of people who have experienced abuse or violence report that they have issues with alcohol abuse. Thirty-three percent of people studied who reported symptoms associated with trauma as a result of an accident, illness, or disaster indicate that they have problems with alcohol. Nearly 80% of veterans who served in the Vietnam War who are treated for PTSD also have alcohol use disorder. Women who have experienced trauma-inducing life events have a greater chance of developing alcohol use disorder than women who have not experienced traumatic events. Adolescents who have been sexually assaulted are four times more likely to abuse alcohol than their peers, more than four times more likely to abuse marijuana, and nine times more likely to abuse other drugs.

Treatments for Trauma

If a person is in treatment for substance use disorder, any underlying trauma must be considered and addressed in order for the person to fully recover. If trauma is not addressed, the person is particularly vulnerable to relapse. According to information published on the Mayo Clinic’s website, part of the treatment for trauma is psychotherapy, also referred to as talk therapy and can include cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Cognitive therapy is used to help patients recognize the ways of thinking, or cognitive patterns, that are keeping them rooted in the trauma. In exposure therapy, patients are exposed to the situations or memories that they find frightening in a safe manner, sometimes using virtual reality programs. EMDR combines exposure therapy with guided eye movements to help patients process traumatic events.

Alternative or complementary therapies can be especially helpful in treatment for people who have experienced trauma, particularly modalities that involve the body as well as the mind. It is said that the body can store memories much like the brain does, but without the context that the brain provides. Treatment that uses the body in some way, like equine therapy, acupuncture, or yoga and meditation, can help to access memories that may be deeply buried and can help people to integrate their minds and bodies.

At Enlightened Solutions, we understand that unprocessed trauma may be at the root of substance use disorder for our patients and we work with them to address trauma, as well as mental health issues that may underlie their addictive behaviors. Enlightened Solutions offers healing for the whole patient, not just their addiction. We develop a treatment program for each patient based on their needs as well as their goals for therapy. Our program is rooted in the 12-Step philosophy and combines traditional talk therapy with a range of holistic treatment modalities. Alternative therapies that we offer include family constellation therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic treatment, yoga and meditation, sound healing, art therapy, music therapy, equine therapy, and horticultural therapy. We are located on the southern shore of New Jersey. If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol and seeking compassionate healing in a soothing environment, call us at (833) 801-5483.


Coping with Holiday Stressors

Managing Sobriety This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving conjures up images of happy families traveling to spend the holiday together. Grandma or mom is presiding over the kitchen, fixing a glorious meal that rivals any meal seen on a magazine cover. Grandpa or dad is watching the game on television. Happy children are playing and adorable dogs are romping. Even the family cat is happy.

But what if your Thanksgiving doesn’t look like that? What if your family doesn’t get along? What if your Thanksgiving is populated by actual real humans instead of entertainers direct from filming a Thanksgiving special? 

For some, Thanksgiving is a wonderful time with family. For others, it is filled with stress, anxiety, or loneliness. If you have recently embraced a sober lifestyle, Thanksgiving can be particularly stressful.

Several aspects of Thanksgiving can be stressful and potentially triggering, especially for people newly in recovery. These stressors include traveling, staying in someone else’s house, and Thanksgiving dinner itself. With a little planning, however, Thanksgiving can be a pleasant, substance-free time.

Traveling During the Thanksgiving Holiday

If you have to fly to reach your destination, bear in mind that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel days in the entire year. If you hate crowds or are afraid of flying, and you are committed to sobriety, you will face some challenges.

Since you no longer will have a drink or two to help you deal with a jam-packed airport, canceled flights, and lots of time spent waiting, you will have to resort to other, albeit healthier, coping mechanisms. Allow more time than you think you need. If the airline says to be there two hours in advance of your flight, do it. Maybe even come a little before that. The last thing you want during Thanksgiving is to be anxious about missing your flight. Bear in mind that the other travelers will possibly be anxious and short-tempered. Call upon the resources you learned in recovery, like deep breathing, to stay as relaxed as possible.

If you are afraid of flying and this is your first time flying sober, you are facing another challenge. Use deep breathing or another technique that you can do seated. This can get you through takeoff and landing, and any turbulence that you may encounter in the air. Bring a book or game to distract yourself. In addition, travel with as little luggage as possible.

Staying in Someone Else’s Home

Staying in your parents’ or a sibling’s home can be a source of stress. Even if your relationships with your family are positive, visiting your childhood home as an adult can bring back childhood memories and possibly unresolved issues. When you are a guest in someone’s home, you need to abide by their rules and be mindful of their schedule. Although it can be fun for everyone to be together under one roof, it can throw off your routine. Ask your host (your mom? dad? sister?) if they mind if you do yoga in the living room at 5 a.m., go for a run every night two hours after dinner, or find an AA meeting to attend while you are in the area.

If your family enjoys wine with dinner, a beer while watching the game, or cocktails before dinner, give some thought to how you will handle the situation. If your family already knows that you aren’t drinking, your situation is easier. If your family or some family members don’t know and they are accustomed to seeing you with a drink in your hand, you may want to have a conversation with them before you arrive. This proactive approach can minimize awkwardness and may give you and them a chance to have a real discussion about the changes you have made in your life--if that’s a discussion you want to have. In any case, bring along whatever it is you like to drink and enough to share.

Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day festivities may include other relatives and family friends. Not all of these guests may know that you are sober by choice. As you would before going into any social situation where alcohol may be served, spend a little time thinking of what you will say if and when someone offers you a drink. Remember, you don’t owe anyone an explanation; a simple “no, thank you” should suffice. Nevertheless, there are a few strategies and techniques that can help ease any awkwardness that could arise.

  • Help in the kitchen. It’ll be difficult for anyone to offer you a drink if you are busy.
  • Keep a glass in your hand. If you already have a drink, no one will offer you one.
  • Bring a festive nonalcoholic beverage to dinner. Other people may enjoy it as well.
  • Have a few responses ready if someone asks you why you aren’t drinking: you are taking medication that doesn’t interact well with alcohol; you are training for an event and you have an early workout scheduled the next day; you’ve lost your taste for it. Or you could simply tell people that you don’t drink anymore and change the subject.

Thanksgiving and other holidays can be stressful for anyone, especially if you have recently chosen a sober lifestyle. With a little forethought and planning, however, you can go and enjoy spending time with people you love while maintaining your sobriety.

Holidays and social events can be stressful, but in the recovery treatment program at Enlightened Solutions, you will learn the life skills you need to navigate social situations confidently as you move forward in your new life, sober by choice. Enlightened Solutions, located in New Jersey’s south shore area, tailors a recovery program to meet the needs of each individual client. The focus is on healing the whole person, not just stopping the addictive behaviors. The treatment options include talk therapy, both one-on-one and in groups, and a wide range of holistic treatment modalities including acupuncture, chiropractic treatment, yoga, sound therapy, family constellation therapy, horticultural therapy, art and music therapy, and more. If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction or other mental health challenge and is seeking compassionate therapy in a comfortable and soothing environment, call Enlightened Solutions at (833) 801-5483.