Traumatic Incidents and Drug Abuse: Why They Occur Together and How They are Treated

According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, “Studies of individuals seeking treatment for PTSD have consistently found a high prevalence of drug and/or alcohol abuse.” Individuals who experience trauma at any time in their life, especially trauma that goes untreated, are also more likely to abuse alcohol and/or drugs during their lifetime than someone who hasn’t. These issues often occur together, and much in the same way, they must be treated together.

Why Do Traumatic Experiences and Substance Abuse Often Occur Together?

Traumatic Incidents and Drug Abuse

Those suffering from PTSD may use drugs in order to cope with the anxiety and depression that often accompany this disorder.

For many reasons, a person who has experienced a traumatic incident is likely to abuse substances and, often, become addicted to them. This is an extremely common and unfortunate situation that causes many individuals to require intensive treatment and care for both trauma-related disorders and substance use. Some of the reasons these issues occur together are because:

  • Many people use substance abuse as a coping mechanism after experiencing a traumatic event, something that only causes more problems.
  • Others may try to forget the event with the use of certain substances.
  • Traumatic events often lead to feelings of anxiety or depression, which can be disorders of their own and may lead to substance abuse in the form of comorbid disorders.
  • “Stress… and early exposure to drugs are common environmental factors that can lead to addiction and other mental illnesses,” issues many trauma patients struggle with (National Institute on Drug Abuse).
  • A person could even experience a traumatic event as the result of their dangerous and unabated drug abuse, especially because the substance itself may cause them to not think clearly and engage in certain dangerous acts.

How Are These Disorders Treated?

A person who has experienced a traumatic event and who also struggles with drug abuse and addiction will require specialized treatment as well as a program that accounts for both issues. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a trauma-informed approach is necessary to recovery, and this can be adapted for those who also suffer from addiction.

The six key principles of a trauma-informed approach include:

  • Safety
  • Trustworthiness and transparency
  • Peer support
  • Collaboration and mutuality
  • Empowerment, voice and choice
  • Cultural, historical, and gender issues

The counselor helping individuals in this situation must keep these six key principles in mind at all times, ensure that the individual feels safe when in treatment, and encourage the person to seek the changes that will benefit them most. Approaches like the therapeutic community model are not normally permitted for patients of this type because they can be confrontational to the patient. The individual must feel at all times that they are in a safe space and that there is room for them to speak, grow, and change.

The process of addiction recovery in this sense is similar, and patients are still treated with a combination of medication and therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be used to get to the root of the individual’s substance abuse and trauma to treat both issues simultaneously. Soon, if both issues are addressed during treatment, the individual can begin to recover and live their lives in the way they have always wanted to.

What are the Best Ways to Treat Comorbid Disorders?

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