An estimated 70 percent of Americans over age 18 have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. Trauma is an emotional response to being the victim of or witness to a terrible or terrifying event. This could be violence, violent death, sexual or physical abuse, childhood neglect or a natural disaster.
A history of trauma is an important risk factor for substance abuse and addiction. When trauma leads to substance abuse, successful recovery must address the trauma and reduce its impact on mood, mental health, sleep, emotions and well-being.
To accomplish this, a trauma-informed approach to treatment is essential. This approach to treatment involves ongoing training for treatment staff, who learn how to respond appropriately to symptoms of trauma in order to prevent re-traumatization and ensure that clients with a history of trauma feel safe, supported and empowered.
In this eBook, we’ll discuss post-traumatic stress disorder, how trauma can lead to substance abuse and how trauma-informed therapy works to help trauma survivors end their substance abuse and reclaim good mental health and a higher quality of life.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Around 20 percent of people who experience trauma will develop PTSD in their lifetime. An estimated five percent of Americans—more than 13 million people—have PTSD at any given time.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a psychiatric disorder characterized by a set of symptoms that interfere with the ability to function in normal, healthy ways. These symptoms reduce overall happiness in life and decrease feelings of well-being. Substance abuse and addiction commonly co-occur with PTSD.
Symptoms of PTSD typically set in within three months of a traumatic event, but they can occur months or even years later. The symptoms of PTSD fall into four categories.
In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, someone must experience at least one instance of all of the following symptoms, for a period of at least one month:
- Re-experiencing: involuntarily reliving the event
- Avoidance: avoiding anything mentally connected to the event
- Arousal: increased anxiety, hyperarousal
- At least two symptoms affecting thought and emotion
Re-experiencing symptoms can cause problems with everyday routines and functioning. These symptoms can be triggered by a thought, feeling, situation, object or word.
Re-experiencing symptoms include:
- Flashbacks, or re-living the trauma in a very real way, often accompanied by sweating or an increased heart rate
- Frightening thoughts that are difficult to shake
- Avoidance symptoms can also upset a person’s routine and can be triggered by reminders of the traumatic event.
Avoidance symptoms include:
- Avoiding places, people, events or objects that serve as reminders of the trauma
- Suppressing and avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the trauma
Arousal and reactivity symptoms are typically constant rather than triggered by a reminder of the event. These can take a major toll on one’s ability to eat, sleep, concentrate or perform other essential daily tasks.
Arousal and reactivity symptoms include:
- Being easily startled or frightened
- Feeling on edge or stressed out
- Having problems sleeping
- Having sudden outbursts of anger
- Cognition and mood symptoms can leave individuals feeling detached from friends and family members and can lead to feelings of isolation or alienation.
Cognition and mood symptoms include:
- A loss of memory surrounding key features of the traumatic event
- Negative thoughts about oneself or the world
- Distorted feelings like guilt, shame, or blame
- A loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
PTSD is often accompanied by depression or an anxiety disorder, and it commonly leads to substance abuse as a way of coping with the nightmares, frightening memories, intrusive thoughts, insomnia and negative emotions that accompany PTSD.
Read part two, The Relationship Between Trauma and Substance Abuse, or download the entire series as a beautifully designed eBook, Trauma-Informed Addiction Treatment and Research-Based Interventions