When someone suffers from trauma, they experience intense stress that overwhelms and hinders their ability to cope and move forward. Trauma can affect an individual in many ways, including emotionally, mentally, physically, cognitively, socially, and spiritually. The experience overwhelms the nervous system, which perceives it as a life-threatening situation.
Feelings of sadness or anxiety might be common after a traumatic experience. They are not necessarily a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for instance. PTSD is commonly developed after such experiences, although it is not the only disorder that can result from it. Trauma-related disorders should be considered if symptoms become recurrent for a month.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is a response of the brain and the body to a life-changing experience. A traumatic experience can be a number of events and every incident is experienced differently by each person. Examples of traumatic experiences include:
- Natural disasters and their effects
- Physical and/or sexual assault
- Violent robbery, assault, and/or kidnapping
- Car accident and crashes
- War and combat
- Death of loved ones
- Living in poverty
Signs of Trauma-Related Disorders
The results of trauma do not manifest themselves right away for everyone. For some, it might take months for them to show major symptoms of a disorder like PTSD. As mentioned, trauma will affect the person in many different ways. Some of the symptoms that can be triggered by trauma include:
- Sudden intrusive thoughts and flashbacks causing the person to relive the event
- Nightmares and insomnia
- Memory and concentration problems
- Disorientation and/or confusion
- Constant, extreme mood swings
- Avoiding activities, places, or people that could trigger memories of the event
- Lack of interest activities they once enjoyed
- Self-isolation and social withdrawal
- Engaging in risky behavior for no reason
- Picking up unhealthy habits like drinking, smoking, or abusing drugs
- Neglecting personal care and/or hygiene
- Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Easily startled, extremely alert (hyperarousal) and on edge constantly
- Irregular heartbeat
- Recurrent fatigue or exhaustion
- Muscle tension and chronic muscle patterns
- Aches and pains throughout the entire body, sometimes chronic
- Sexual dysfunction
- Easily and constantly irritable and angered
- Anxiety, restlessness
- Experiencing panic attacks
- Constant fear, sometimes to the point of paranoia
- Obsessive-compulsive behavior
- Displaying symptoms of depression
- Being detached from others, lack of emotions, and/or emotional numbing
- Feeling shameful
- Guilt (major sign in case they were the sole or one of few survivors, called survivor’s guilt)
- Emotional shock
Developing a disorder due to trauma means the person needs therapeutic or psychiatric treatment. These symptoms don’t just go away with time if they’ve been lingering for more than a month. And leaving them unaddressed can lead to other health issues.
For instance, substance abuse might go from casual use to actual addiction. At first, they might be functional alcoholics or such, and then things get worse and worse. Should that happen, the person might start suffering from dual diagnosis, meaning having two co-occurring disorders at once.
In this case, patients would then have to address both the mental disorder and substance abuse disorder. They feed off of each other, and leaving one untreated could trigger the other back.
Luckily, trauma-specific methods have been designed for those suffering from trauma or trauma-related disorders. There are multiple options out there, and one of them is trauma-informed therapy.
What Is Trauma-Informed Therapy?
Trauma-informed therapy helps individuals accept and move on while overcoming substance abuse. While a range of addiction therapy services is essential in addressing addiction, trauma-informed therapy is crucial for those struggling with trauma.
The effects of trauma are rooted in a person’s core in a different way than it is for other disorders. That is because trauma makes the individual “adapt”, developing certain patterns and behaviors.
This is how the mind and body go into survival mode, and the person might not even be aware of these patterns. Changing behaviors a person is not aware of takes a specific kind of attention and care.
The first step is to recognize these patterns and show them to the patient. Treatment is meant to go beyond treating the symptoms generated by trauma. Trauma-informed therapy is designed to understand the traumatic events and how they are affecting the patient. It changes the focus from “what’s wrong with you?” and trades that for “what happened to you?”.
In trauma-informed therapy, therapists also provide trauma-resisting coping skills training. Coping with past trauma requires resiliency and proper techniques. This is especially important in cases of dual diagnosis with trauma and addiction. Not all relapse prevention skills will work for trauma-related issues. Without the proper coping tool, the patient might experience what is called retraumatization.
What Is Retraumatization? What Causes it?
Retraumatization is the process where a person in recovery is triggered into experiencing feelings associated with their original trauma. This process can happen due to contact with any situation, person, place, or environment that reminds the person of the traumatic event.
Some of the possible triggers might be more obvious, and therefore, more easily avoided. However, that is not always the case with subtler examples of triggers, like a specific sound, song, and even smell. These are not only harder to spot, but they can be harder to avoid.
This can also happen both through relationships as well as through systematic trauma. Some of the possible triggers are:
- Violation of trust
- Feeling like they are not seen or heard
- Lack of emotional safety
- Noncollaborative behavior regarding treatment or recovery
- Punitive treatment, use of coercive practices, and/or oppressive language
- Doing things for them rather than with them
- Having to retell (and relive) their story over and over again
- Going through procedures that require disrobing
- Being labeled something and treated differently for it and defined by it (addict, schizophrenic, etc.)
- Being treated like a number
- Having no choice or possibility of service or treatment
- Getting no opportunity to give their feedback on their experience with their service
This retraumatization might bring about certain trauma-related symptoms, and even make them worse. Patients can experience this before treatment without knowing, worsening their disorders. But they could also go through retraumatization after treatment. That is where the mentioned coping skills come to good use. Otherwise, retraumatization can lead to a process similar to a relapse.
The Four Rs And The Five Principles
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, trauma-informed therapy involves the four Rs and the five principles. These are followed by caretakers and professionals in order to avoid retraumatization. They can be easily interpreted and then adapted in many situations, making them ideally flexible for treatment.
The four R’s include:
- Realizing – Individuals must realize how immense the traumatic incident is.
- Recognizing – They must then recognize how this trauma is affecting their daily life.
- Responding – Through trauma-informed therapy, the individual is able to respond to the trauma differently by changing their perspective.
- Resisting – Therapy then teaches the person how to avoid, prevent, and work through triggers.
The five principles are:
- Empowerment – The patient learns and accepts the strength they have to move forward in life. This is achieved by prioritizing skill building during sessions, giving patients the tools to be independent.
- Safety – The therapy sessions create a safe space for patients to feel vulnerable and talk about their experiences. Therapists should ensure the patient’s physical and emotional safety during these sessions.
- Collaboration – Patients understand how healing occurs through relationships they build with loved ones, peers, and their therapists. They are given the power to make decisions individually and also in collaboration with others.
- Trust – The patient must provide their therapist with truthful facts without leaving any information behind, and vice-versa. There should be full transparency in order to build said trust. Professional, respectful boundaries between the parties must also be set and respected.
- Choice – The therapist suggests coping skills that protect the dignity of the patient. The patient is given control over their choices, and they understand their power and responsibilities.
By implementing these components, the therapist can help a patient work through their trauma during trauma-informed therapy sessions.
Once the individual is able to work through their trauma, they can then focus on breaking free from their addiction. Learning coping skills for stress and triggers will eliminate the need to rely on these illicit substances. By addressing both issues, the dangerous cycle can end.
Receive Treatment For Addiction and Trauma At LA Detox
Have you struggled to move past a traumatic incident in your life? Did you turn to illicit substances to forget about the trauma, but developed an addiction instead? If you’re struggling with your mental health due to a traumatic incident, you need trauma-informed therapy.
Participating in a Los Angeles PTSD therapy program can help you move past your trauma and move on with your life in a positive, safe, and healthy way.
We at LA Detox offer dual diagnosis treatment that includes trauma-informed therapy. Our team can answer all your questions and provide information on all the options we have for you. We can get you the help you need, no matter what your struggle is.
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction along with mental health issues, contact us today. Begin your journey to a better life!