How trauma affects addiction
Trauma comes in many shapes, sizes and forms. The most important part about dealing with trauma is understanding it and how it can affect your life in ways you might not have realized. This is why we take great care in focusing on giving our clients psychoeducation about trauma. Learning about how it can impact their substance abuse and their physical responses is imperative, because trauma can affect someone’s decision making in a very similar manner as addiction. They both trigger the “fight or flight” response in our brains.
According to Lisa Najavits, the author of Seeking Safety, the most urgent clinical need for persons with this prevalent and difficult-to-treat dual diagnosis is to establish safety. They need to work toward discontinuing substance use, letting go of dangerous relationships, and gaining control over such extreme symptoms as dissociation and self-harm. Throughout the treatment process, we present highly practical tools and techniques to engage patients in treatment; teach “safe coping skills” that apply to both disorders; and restore ideals that have been lost, including respect, care, protection, and healing. Structured yet flexible, treatment can be conducted in any order and in a range of different formats and settings.
Learning to deal with trauma
Trauma can cause the inability to make effective decisions. It can give a great impact on the body, causing states of fear, muscle tension, agitation and more which can drive people to use substances. When you think about dealing with trauma, you might think that talking about it in therapy is what will help. However, it goes much deeper than that and the reality is much different. We actually do not encourage actively processing trauma until our clients have the skills to be ready to do so. This is because trauma affects the physical responses in our brain, so building a good foundation for when someone is ready to talk about their trauma will help them greatly in the long run.
The education process
Once a client has been able to learn coping skills and has earned a foundation to begin speaking about their trauma, we make sure they have all the possible support they need to make sure the never feel alone. At Pinelands, we split up our clients by gender to male and female Seeking Safety Groups. This is so no one feels uncomfortable talking about something in front of the other gender, since some trauma can be extremely personal. In these groups, clients will talk about substance abuse and how it impacts their trauma history, getting skills for both at the same time. This works so well because skills needed for dealing with trauma are the same as the skills needed for relapse prevention.
Clients will also have the opportunity to hear other stories, gain advice and insight, as well as help others if they themselves have any insight into what someone else may be dealing with. Being able to relate to one another is important, such as two soldiers who have been in war, and can talk openly about how their experiences have affected their lives. Individual therapy can be the time to go into more detail about the trauma.
There are three classifications of trauma:
“Big T”: Trauma that is classified as “Big T” can include major life events such as sexual abuse, combat in war, or surviving a major disaster such as 9/11.
“Little T”: Trauma that is classified as “Little T” can include unhealthy relationships, an alcoholic parent, living in an invalidating environment, mental health issues in the home, a loved one who is chronically ill, having dealt with someone who committed suicide, friends who have overdosed, and more.
Little T leading to Big T: In the event that someone has had many “Little T” trauma occurrences, they can pile up on top of eachother and lead to and overall “Big T” trauma.
Often times when people enter treatment, they do not even realize that they have experienced trauma. Getting to the root of a substance abuse issue will often uncover this. Clients often have a “light bulb moment” when they realize that they’ve experienced trauma, and that their substance abuse has become the response to that trauma. Once a client is able to acknowledge what they have been through is traumatic and how it is tied into themselves, the long-lasting change can happen in their lives.
About Pinelands Recovery Center
Dealing with your trauma and your addiction at the same time is possible, and we are here to help you every step of the way. Your support group, therapists and Seeking Safety work will all help you build skills to lead to a better, healthier life. Once you are better able to understand your trauma, how it has affected your life and how it has affected your body, then you will be much better able to understand your addiction.
Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford is widely known as one of New Jersey’s finest, most respected addiction treatment facilities. With comfortable 30-bed accommodations and a 24-hour professional staff, we can offer clients a serene, relaxing environment amid the lush piney woods. This stress-free setting with its sense of warmth and welcoming enables you to feel comfortable and confident about your clean and sober life ahead.
We will establish clear goals, both general in nature and specific to your needs. We continue to
monitor those goals, to make sure that our clients are progressing and buying into their recovery
plan. We thrive on assisting clients in feeling connected to the recovery community, share and
demonstrate effective coping techniques, help clients to modify attitudes and patterns of
behavior and everything else you will need to be happy and productive living a sober, healthy
We ensure that clients complete their planned concrete tasks, encourage hope, optimism and
healthy living. Our recovery program is not a revolving door treatment program; it is a recovery
model designed to help clients go on to lead productive, happy lives. For more information, visit