Trauma and Addiction

trauma and addiction

Breaking Free from Trauma and Addiction

Gain insights into the impact of trauma on addiction, and discover strategies for breaking free.

Trauma and addiction do not discriminate and it is prevalent around the world. Research in the medical community is constantly evolving in regard to trauma. The definition has grown beyond the stereotypical events it used to be associated with such as war, death, and natural disasters. Those in the mental health field are learning about the varying degrees of trauma and its impact on the sufferer.

There are a variety of different treatment options when it comes to addressing trauma. If you or someone you love is a trauma survivor seeking help, it is important to speak to a trained professional who can assess your individual situation and make the appropriate treatment recommendations.

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What Is Trauma?

Trauma can occur when you experience an event that is deeply distressing, frightening, or disturbing. This can leave you feeling completely overwhelmed and affect your ability to cope. This often creates feelings of powerlessness, while also affecting your ability to express other emotions. While there is really no way to determine which events will cause post-trauma symptoms, most situations involve abuse, physical and emotional pain, or loss. 

Traumatic events can occur at any age, can be short-term events, or sustained over an extended period of time. Every individual will have a different reaction to trauma, and the symptoms of post-trauma can differ dramatically. Trauma is subjective and it’s important to remember that it is defined more by its response than its trigger.

What Experiences Might Be Traumatic?

There is no measuring stick when it comes to trauma, as it’s completely personal. Other people can’t determine whether or not a situation was traumatic for you. While it’s possible to have a similar traumatic experience to someone else, you will both be affected differently. 

Ways in which trauma can occur include:

  • One-off event: a natural disaster or car crash etc
  • Ongoing and sustained events: ongoing sexual abuse, ongoing physical abuse
  • Being directly harmed: physical, sexual, emotional, verbal abuse
  • Witnessing someone being harmed
  • Living in a traumatic atmosphere: living with parents in addiction or abusive family member 
  • Being affected by trauma in a family or community
  • Harassment, bullying, and/or discriminatory abuse related to parts of your identity
  • Neglect: parental or caregivers neglect a young child, teenager, and sometimes an adult
trauma and addiction

Traumatic events will usually make you feel:

  • Scared
  • Threatened
  • Humiliated
  • Rejected
  • Alone
  • Invalidated
  • Unsafe
  • Unsupported
  • Trapped
  • Ashamed
  • Helpless

Signs, Symptoms & Responses of Trauma

You may respond differently to a traumatic event perhaps differently to your neighbour. There are, however, a few basic and common symptoms to look out for.

Emotional signs include:

  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Denial
  • Fear
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Rage
  • Overwhelm

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These emotional signs may lead to an individual experiencing:

  • Nightmares/night terrors
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Interpersonal relationship issues
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Mood swings
  • Erratic behaviour
  • Impulsive behaviour
  • Addiction
  • Substance abuse
  • Alcoholism

Bessel van der Kolk, a psychiatrist, author, and researcher is known for his studies on post-traumatic stress disorder. In his book The Body Keeps The Score, he comments on how trauma can be trapped in the body.

“Traumatised people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become experts at ignoring their gut feelings and numbing awareness of what is playing out inside. They learn to hide from their selves” (p.97).

The physical signs and symptoms ought to be noted and these can include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Altered sleep patterns
  • Changes in appetite
  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Chronic pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Tiredness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Psychosis

Psychological disorders may include:

  • PTSD
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Personality disorders

Adverse Childhood Experiences

This term, also known as ACEs, is often used to describe stressful events or difficulties experienced in childhood. An adverse childhood experience can include sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological and emotional abuse, or neglect. These events can have serious impacts on development and cause longer-term issues later on in life. ACEs are extremely common and can affect people from all backgrounds. They are known to negatively affect your physical and mental health, relationships, and overall well-being.

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is closely linked to PTSD, however, it is now recognised by the International Classification of Diseases as a separate condition. An individual suffering from complex PTSD often has experienced prolonged or repeated trauma over a period of months or years. It can have a serious effect on your mental health and can cause troubles with interpersonal relationship issues as well as struggles with identity and a sense of self. 

Trauma is very often the cause of complex mental health issues and can manifest in many different ways. This is why trauma therapy in particular can be a difficult thing to navigate. Stereotypically speaking, many think that trauma needs to be ‘severe’ enough to warrant attention, whereas some of the most severe trauma cases will not be obvious to the individual or to those around them. When seeking trauma therapy it is important to speak in confidence to trained professionals who can assess your or your loved one’s particular situation and make the appropriate best treatment decisions.

What Is Trauma Therapy?

Trauma therapy refers to a type of mental health treatment that therapists often use to help people overcome the psychological aspects associated with trauma. Treating trauma usually requires a strategic combination of approaches in order to provide the best possible outcomes. There is a multitude of approaches when it comes to trauma therapy, these include:

Types of Trauma Therapy

There are different types of therapy that can help in the treatment of trauma. The most common types are Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TFCBT) and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR).

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Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TF-CBT)

As the name implies, TF-CBT focuses on some of the specific emotional and mental health needs of survivors and families who may be struggling to heal from early trauma. This type of therapy is especially helpful when treating younger people for post-traumatic stress and mood disorders that may arise as a result of abuse, violence, or grief.

CBT typically focuses on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. During this type of treatment, your therapist will expose you to a particular trauma narrative, in addition to emotions associated with the trauma. This is done in order to help reduce avoidance and maladaptive coping strategies related to it. This exposure is done in a controlled way and often planned collaboratively with the patient and therapist.

Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is an innovative treatment that helps patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to process negative memories and emotions that have been suppressed. During an EMDR therapy session, patients are encouraged to revisit traumatic events, consciously focusing on eye movements, sounds, and body sensations. This process can be complex if there are many experiences connected to negative thoughts and feelings.

EMDR treatment ensures the processing of all traumatic past events, current incidents that cause distress, and future scenarios that could induce a traumatic response. The overall goal is to produce the most comprehensive and profound treatment in the shortest period of time, while simultaneously maintaining a stable client within a balanced system. 

After EMDR processing, patients generally report that the emotional distress related to the memory has been eliminated, or greatly decreased and that they have gained important insights into their mental processes: perception, memory, judgement, reasoning, and behaviour. Importantly, these emotional and cognitive changes usually result in behavioural and personal changes.

Goals of Trauma Therapy

Before undertaking any type of counselling or therapy, it’s important to know what you want to accomplish during your treatment. The first step is always awareness and then working out what your triggers are and how you react when triggered in the present day. It is also important to know what your goal in therapy will be and to have a good trusting relationship with your clinician. 

The most crucial goals of trauma therapy are:

  • To help you face the reality of a past traumatic event 
  • To work on reducing the symptoms of trauma 
  • To try shifting focus onto the present
  • To improve your daily functioning
  • Make you aware of hereditary trauma
  • To help you reclaim personal power
  • To overcome addictions caused by traumatic stress
  • To gain other skills associated with trauma 

You may have unique goals of your own based on the kinds of problems you’ve encountered since the trauma and the kind of life you want to move towards. The ultimate goal of trauma therapy is to return a sense of control, and self-confidence to the patient. Trauma therapy can be incredibly rewarding and has helped millions of people reclaim their lives. 

Trauma Therapy in London

At CATCH Recovery, we offer trauma therapy to help with the treatment of addiction. In order to address the underlying issues behind your illness, our therapists will assess your needs and decide which form of trauma therapy is best suited to you. 

Our clinic is based in South West London, which is accessible from anywhere in the UK. However, if you need additional support but don’t live in the South East of England, you may benefit from some of the outpatient services we offer. If you require residential rehab and are unable to travel to London, we also provide referrals to rehabs in other areas in the UK and Ireland.

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