Trauma Theory and The Addicted Mind

Trauma Therapy And The Addicted Mind

Trauma therapy examines causes of addiction. Addiction can have different elements. Things that occur alongside it. Like mental illness. Researchers call this comorbidity. Memories of trauma can also occur comorbidly with SUDs.

In this article, you will learn:

  • What is trauma?
  • How is trauma one of the causes of addiction?
  • What is trauma therapy?
  • How can trauma therapy help me?
  • How can I learn more about trauma therapy?

What Is Trauma?

Nailing down a single definition of trauma seems complicated. It entails the ways we respond to extremely stressful events. Trauma can lead to a sensation of freezing. Like a person is stuck inside the trauma. As such, traumatic memories complicate the present. Trauma sufferers cannot live in the present. Because their bodies believe they still live in the past.

Symptoms Of Trauma

You’ve likely heard of PTSD. It stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. A recent discovery also includes complex PTSD or CPTSD. But a person needn’t have an official diagnosis with one of these disorders. Trauma affects people differently. Absence of a diagnosis doesn’t mean an absence of trauma symptoms.

Recent research draws a relationship between the COVID-19 pandemic and trauma. Symptoms of trauma include:

  • Traumatic memories disrupting your thoughts
  • Evading specific things, places, or people
  • Persistent unpleasant emotions
  • Reacting above and beyond a given problem or situation

How Is Trauma One Of The Causes Of Addiction? 

Dr. Gabor Maté’s work provides help here. In his book In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts, Dr. Maté defines addiction as, “any repeated behavior, substance-related or not, in which a person feels compelled to persist, regardless of its negative impact on his life and the lives of others.” The book explores the relationship between trauma and childhood brain development. Dr. Maté also indicates that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) shape how people deal with stress later in life.

Trauma can lead to maladaptive patterns of coping with stress. For example, a person feels stressed out. They’re having a hard time at work. So they begin drinking to relieve the stress. They feel a combination of anxiety and despair. Sobriety might help this person. So might an antidepressant. But these tools would just make symptoms go away. They would do little to address the person’s underlying trauma.

A few key things to remember about trauma and addiction:

  • Trauma (and its symptoms) cause stress
  • Trauma can lead to unhealthy means of coping
  • Trauma can contribute to the onset of mental illnesses
  • Trauma can likewise lead to struggles with substance use disorder (SUD)
  • Sobriety and abstinence, while helpful, do not represent the final goals of trauma therapy

What Is Trauma Therapy? 

Recovery can present a long journey. We’d all like it to be a gradual, though steady, climb. But it involves different challenges. Different obstacles for different people. Instead, recovery journeys involve sidetracks and rabbit trails.

Therefore, trauma survivors need therapy specific to their needs. It’s good to get sober. It’s wise to address mental health problems. However, trauma therapy focuses directly on what’s beneath the substance use disorder.

Find some examples of trauma therapy below.

Examples Of Trauma-Focused Therapy 

Sobriety makes for a worthwhile goal. Balancing one’s mental health is another. For some people, these might serve as endgame goals. But those coping with trauma require deeper measures. Examples of trauma-specific therapy exist. These treatment models help address trauma as one of the causes of addiction.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy 

Prolonged exposure therapy (PE) entails slowly wearing away traumatic feelings. It usually lasts for 9-12 90-minute sessions. With the aid of a therapist, clients will imagine traumatic scenarios. Over time, clients become strong enough to confront imagined trauma. From there, PE brings the client into confronting trauma outside of therapy.

Cognitive Processing Therapy

Trauma often results in inaccurate or false beliefs. We tell ourselves untrue stories about true events Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) teaches the client to ask questions. Doing so helps them uncover unhelpful beliefs about the trauma.

Eye Movement Desensitization And Reprocessing (EMDR) 

During an EMDR session, the client recalls a traumatic memory. With the eyes, the client tracks with the clinician’s hand. The client moves the memory forward in their mind. Usually, with little input from the clinician, the client forms a new relationship with the memory.

Examples Of Non-Trauma Focused Therapy

Focusing directly on trauma can disorient some people. Not everybody feels ready to make that leap. Not even in a therapeutic environment. To that end, therapists have developed non-trauma focused therapies. Let us look at a few examples.


Techniques like mindfulness and meditation can provide relief from trauma. They can help offset painful automatic thoughts. Breathing techniques, like holotropic breathing, can improve feelings of self-acceptance. Yoga can also aid in trauma therapy.

Stress Inoculation Training (SIT) 

Donald Meichenbaum first developed stress inoculation training in the 1970s. It offers limited exposure to minor stressors. This way, it treats stress like a disease. You get a small, controlled dose. Once you become accustomed to this dose, your body can defend against greater doses.

Interpersonal Therapy 

Interpersonal therapy attempts to help clients recognize emotional triggers. Once they notice a trigger, they can examine the underlying emotion. In understanding themselves better, they can articulate their experience better. IPT thus helps improve the client’s relationship with others.

How Can Trauma Therapy Help Me?

Sobriety can level out your body. Proper mental health care can straighten out your thinking. But for some people, those are just the first steps. Trauma therapy tries to uproot a painful memory. To detach you from it. To offer you freedom from a cycle of suffering. Wholeness is the goal. Healing, health, and completion.

How Can I Learn More About Trauma Therapy?

Recovery By The Sea offers numerous trauma therapy options. We offer trauma-specific therapy and non-trauma-focused therapy. No matter what you’re looking for, know that hope is real. Recovery is possible. If you or someone you love is suffering from trauma, call Recovery By The Sea now at 877-207-5033.