Caron considers a traumatic event to be one that exceeds an individual’s resources to cope. If two people have the same experience, one may find it traumatic and the other might not; nevertheless, the person who has been traumatized needs and deserves help.
Trauma can result from any shocking or terrifying experiences, including episodes of violence, sexual assault, neglect, disasters, and more. These induce a sense of powerlessness, fear, recurrent hopelessness, and a constant state of alertness or anxiety. The person who experiences trauma may feel out of control or dehumanized. Traumatic experiences can be isolated or recurrent events with effects that compound over time.
Signs and Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Sometimes, though not always, people who experience traumatic events develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is a very specific diagnosis in which some of the natural symptoms that occur after a traumatic event persist, rather than dissipate over time. Signs and symptoms of PTSD include:
- Re-experiencing: flashbacks, bad dreams, or frightening thoughts
- Avoidance: staying away from places, people, etc. that may remind the person of the incident; feeling emotionally numb or feeling strong guilt, shame, depression, or anxiety; losing interest in once-enjoyed activities; having trouble remembering the event
- Hyperarousal: being easily startled; feeling tense or on edge; difficulty sleeping; angry outbursts. These symptoms can cause stress and anger.
- Disassociation Symptoms: feeling emotionally disconnected; not feeling a sense of connection to others or to one's physical self; having an altered sense of reality.
Trauma and Addiction
The stress, guilt, shame, and other emotions that come with trauma don’t necessarily cause addiction, but they can trigger drug and alcohol problems or become a barrier to addiction recovery.
Traumatic events can influence substance abuse and addiction in several ways. Sometimes, people start using drugs or alcohol after a traumatic event as a coping mechanism. Traumatic events can cause those with an existing drug or alcohol problem to increase use and develop an addiction. Trauma may also cause long-term addicts to become even more vulnerable to stressors and health issues, thus worsening substance abuse.
Trauma is closely related to Addiction Interaction Disorder (AID). Addiction Interaction Disorder is when two or more addictions (such as eating disorders, drug addiction, sex addiction, and gambling addiction) coexist. In many cases, individuals may use drugs, gambling, or sex to self-sooth yet quickly loose control and develop addictions.
Of Caron patients with AID, roughly 85% have had a traumatic experience. These people also tend to struggle with attachment disorders and isolating behaviors. Many tend to re-traumatize themselves (keeping themselves in a victim role) or isolate themselves. If their trauma isn’t addressed, interacting disorders and problems can prevent recovery or increase the likelihood of relapse down the road.
Treating Trauma and Addiction
The first step in treating trauma in the context of addiction is to identify it. We look for signs of trauma and PTSD during initial assessment. The clinical team treats trauma with various therapies, including:
- Evidence-based therapies:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), a skills-based group focusing on mindfulness, emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness
- Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), a therapy that helps patients identify, accept, express, regulate, and transform unpleasant emotions
- Experiential Therapy, a process that empowers patients to find self-insight through role play and hands-on activities
- Educational readings around trauma
- Coping skills groups to discuss anxiety, depression, cravings, and more
- Trauma-sensitive yoga group
- Art therapy to help individuals identify what they’re thinking and feeling
- Our Seeking Safety group, a psychoeducational and skill-based group
- Spiritual counseling to work around issues of shame and guilt and find peace
Intensive experiential workshops led by trauma-informed therapists, highly trained in attachment theory, EFT, family and group therapy
It’s very important to make sure a person’s trauma or PTSD is considered in his or her continuing care plan. If necessary, Caron will refer patients to external resources for ongoing treatment of trauma.