Trauma’s Role in Substance Abuse
Substance abuse causes hundreds of thousands of deaths every year in the US, and negatively affects millions more lives. Individuals seeking treatment face a difficult road ahead and a fight that will be at the center of their lives for the foreseeable future.
To create more efficient substance abuse treatment programs, it is crucial to understand the important role that trauma plays. A study performed at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, tracked patients who have experienced trauma in the past. The data shows that patients with a history of trauma had extremely high lifetime dependency rates on substances such as alcohol (39%), cocaine (34.1%), marijuana (44.8%), and heroin/opiates (6.2%).
For example, teenagers who have experienced childhood trauma such as physical or sexual abuse or assault are three times more likely to report drug use problems later in life than those who have not. Surveys performed on adolescents receiving treatment for substance abuse have shown that more than 70% of patients had a history of trauma exposure.
Individuals who experience childhood trauma often manifest post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms later in life. The connection between PTSD and substance abuse is strong as well, with 59% of young people with PTSD symptoms developing substance abuse problems. This correlation between PTSD and substance abuse is even stronger when it comes to women.
Numerous studies and scientific research confirm the link between trauma and compromised neural structure and function, rendering an individual susceptible to later cognitive deficits and psychiatric illnesses. Individuals who have suffered trauma are more likely to develop schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and substance abuse.
Making the Connection
Substance users often feel an incredible amount of shame and social stigma, which makes it even harder to seek help and treatment. The act of admitting that they have a problem is often so stressful and difficult for them that they will go to great lengths to avoid it. It’s understandable – no one feels comfortable being judged for their choices and lifestyle.
Therefore, it is crucial for an individual struggling with substance abuse to make an individual connection if they are to commit to a treatment program. This means that a judgment-free environment where patients feel secure and free to talk openly about their substance abuse and other issues is key. Making a connection and building trust between the patient and the therapist plays an important part in treatment.
Understanding the connection between trauma and substance abuse goes a long way toward treating substance abuse. By seeking out past traumatic events during therapy, the client can understand the causes of self-medicating with substances, leading to a more successful treatment outcome.
People who suffer from substance abuse need affirmation that they are not worthless and a failure, that society does not reject them, and that there is hope for getting better. This requires a relationship built on trust, respect, and acceptance between the therapist and the patient.
This is not always easy since some patients might be involved in the treatment program against their will by their parents or loved ones. Additionally, some therapists and treatment centers do not have experience and expertise in both substance abuse and trauma treatment. The lack of facilities and personnel that can recognize the patterns between substance abuse and trauma-related behavior and PTSD can make it difficult to create a connection with a patient and understand the underlying causes of substance use.
Each Individual is Different
For a long time, most substance abuse treatment programs followed a generic program created without taking into account the differences in patients’ substance abuse history, overall health, and personality. This creates an environment where some individuals feel out of place, misunderstood, judged, and ultimately rejected.
We believe that treatment must be tailored to each individual and their needs, goals, and personality. Individual factors play an important role in the success of the treatment, the relationship between the therapist and the patient, and a stimulating environment for treatment. This does not mean that group therapy and sharing is not encouraged, but rather that each patient deserves an individualized treatment program that has a higher chance of success.
Before each patient commits to a treatment program, it is necessary to perform an assessment and identify the patient’s unique needs and characteristics. By doing this, it will be easier to create a custom treatment plan. There is no one-size-fits-all rule in treatment.
The patient must have a sense of ownership of their treatment program and be involved in the process of creating it. Patients should have a key role in outlining individual goals related to substance abuse, personal life, and professional life, assisted by treatment specialists. Such goals and treatment guidelines make sure that patients progress towards their goals in line with their personality, values, and ambition they have set for themselves.
Seeking help for substance abuse already carries a huge amount of shame and stigma in our society. Creating an inclusive environment that caters to individuals helps eradicate this stigma and encourages others to seek treatment as well.
Integrative Harm Reduction Therapy
Integrative Harm Reduction Therapy (IHRP) is a new paradigm in treatment, which considers substance abuse a reaction to a past event that has caused the patient to suffer. The issues connect through a variety of social, psychological, and biological factors, such as childhood trauma, sexual and physical abuse, PTSD, and problems maintaining relationships with others.
IHRP focuses on creating a connection with the patient in a judgment-free environment. During treatment, therapists help the patient set individual goals on their road to recovery. The key step is to identify the underlying causes that trigger substance abuse in the patient. It often means discussing and analyzing painful past events such as childhood trauma, sexual and physical abuse, toxic relationships, bullying, and more.
For a long time, the standard treatment for substance abuse leaned on a forced abstinence model, in many ways similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. The primary issue with such an approach is that the only acceptable outcome of the treatment is complete abstinence and recovery. This often has little connection to the reality of substance use and overcoming it through treatment.
At the same time, this puts an enormous amount of pressure on patients to follow the complete abstinence model. The sense of failure and rejection is just around the corner if they fall off the wagon. Many patients who cannot keep up with a complete abstinence program tend to spiral and even worsen their substance abuse.
IHRP takes the notion of forced abstinence and throws it out of the window. It rejects the classification of substance abuse as a disease and the traditional approach to treatment. Traditional treatments see patients as people who cannot control their behavior or even think for themselves. IHRP uses a different approach, by listening to the patients, who still might be engaging in habitual substance use at the time of the treatment, and trying to help them understand the roots of their addiction.
How Heights Harm Reduction Can Help
Heights Harm Reduction is a therapy center in the Houston area, led by Dr. Kelly Wright. The focus of the center is to provide powerful therapy to those who suffer from anxiety and substance abuse. By putting the patient at the center of our treatment model, we provide customized treatment plans that focus on your individual needs and goals.
Through Integrative Harm Reduction Therapy (IHRP), Heights Harm Reduction creates a safe and judgment-free environment for treatment. The first step in the treatment is to get to know our patients and understand the issues they are facing, as well as what their goals are in life. Only by truly understanding each individual we can provide treatment that the patient can take ownership of.
Heights Harm Reduction rejects traditional abstinence-based treatment programs and uses cutting-edge clinical research and IHRP techniques to identify the underlying causes of addiction in each patient and create a strategy for achieving successful treatment. We do not consider those who fail to achieve total abstinence as failures, but rather believe in empowering each patient to get their substance abuse under control and treat the underlying causes.
We believe that only by looking at both substance abuse and the underlying causes (trauma or other social, psychological, and biological factors) can we understand the whole problem and provide treatment that works. Helping patients take control of their life and progress is of utmost importance.
Statistics have shown that IHRP is incredibly effective, both in the short term and the long term, in treating substance abuse. By getting to know you better and learning more about your history with substances, we can prepare a custom treatment plan and techniques that can help you take back control and achieve the goals you have set.
If you would like to know more about the types of treatment we provide at Heights Harm Reduction, feel free to visit our homepage. We hope to have the opportunity to work with you or your loved ones to effectively treat substance abuse.