Trauma and substance abuse have a strong connection — especially when the traumatic events or situations occur during childhood or early adolescence. Many people with unresolved trauma experience a mental health condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The condition can bring back intense emotions and memories of the trauma, along with anxiety, depression, nightmares and other physical and behavioral symptoms.
As a result, people with PTSD often turn to substances in order to counteract or minimize the manifestations of trauma. It’s certainly understandable, as those who are struggling with trauma just want to feel normal — and in the short term, drugs and alcohol can make them feel better. But over time, the substances themselves create additional anxiety and depression, which only amplifies the symptoms of PTSD and can lead to addiction. In addition, drug and alcohol abuse often lead to risky behavior and poor judgment, which increases the likelihood of further trauma.
The good news? There’s treatment for trauma and PTSD.
Any type of extreme stress can bring on PTSD, whether it’s witnessed or experienced personally. Also, trauma does not necessarily have to involve a single event; it can be a pattern or situation, such as an abusive family relationship. Some sources of trauma include violent assaults, physical abuse, sexual abuse, rape, acts of violence (such as a school shooting), natural or man-made disasters, car accidents, being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, and witnessing someone else go through one of these events (especially a loved one).
Not everyone who experiences trauma develops PTSD; in fact, most do not. However, when the initial emotions of anxiety and stress don’t go away, that’s an indication that the brain has not successfully processed the trauma.
Unresolved trauma can be accompanied by a variety of physical and emotional symptoms. They can include:
In short, yes. When you’re involved in the trauma itself, your body reacts by releasing adrenaline and cortisol, which are stress hormones. These hormones are useful as they trigger the “fight or flight” response that can cause us to run or fight off harm. However, when that response doesn’t go away when the immediate danger is over — or when it is too easily triggered — that’s a sign that the brain has not appropriately “processed” the trauma.
This is where trauma therapy can help. In addition to talking through the trauma, we may also use a technique called eye movement desensitization reprocessing (or EMDR for short). When we are asleep, our brains undergo a state in which we process the day’s memories and experience; while we do so, our eyes dart back and forth quickly. Trauma therapy uses EMDR to mimic those eye movements, which in turn helps the brain to deal with the memory of the trauma, so it’s no longer “stuck” in that fight or flight response.
Before we address the trauma itself, we start by making sure your teen is safe and stable. This usually involves detox, so any toxic substances are eliminated. (Don’t worry. Safe Landing provides medical supervision, and we’ll help manage any withdrawal symptoms so your child’s detox experience is safe and comfortable.) Then, we’ll start mapping out an addiction treatment program and work together on your teen’s individual treatment plan. Our continuum of care means we can meet your child right where they are on their recovery journey, and provide the treatment they need — whether it’s residential inpatient, partial hospitalization, or our intensive outpatient program.
If your child is dealing with trauma and PTSD, we will address it in one-on-one trauma therapy, as well as in group therapy. Other useful treatment options for trauma include cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and animal-assisted therapy. Our wellness curriculum also provides tools to achieve a sense of calm and healing.
If you’d like to learn more about trauma and substance abuse (or PTSD and substance abuse) as they relate to teens, we welcome you to call or visit Safe Landing. You and your teen don’t have to feel alone anymore. We’re here to help you now.