Young Businessman with Colleagues

Substance Abuse & Trauma

Treatment for trauma and recovery go hand in hand

There is often a connection between substance abuse problems and trauma. It is common for individuals who have experienced trauma to turn to alcohol and/or drugs to “cope”. “Cope” often means to numb out, escape, or forget about the pain and distress that unprocessed trauma leaves us with. The problem with this “solution” is that substance use does not erase the trauma memories and they live on in our thoughts, emotions, and our bodies. Substance use, also, increases the individual’s vulnerability to exposure to unsafe situations that could lead to more traumatic experiences. Over time, the use of alcohol and drugs can create their own set of problems. The sought after “solution”, then, becomes part of the problem.

Historically, treatment for substance abuse consisted of a focus on the substance use disorder and the need for abstinence before examining other co-existing issues, such as a history of trauma. This approach, however, leaves the individual vulnerable to the unprocessed trauma memories that continue to live on in their system and bodies after the alcohol and/or drugs are no longer present and can lead to early treatment drop out and relapse. Treating the trauma in conjunction with the substance abuse issues increases the individual’s chances of long-term successful recovery.