Trauma and PTSD

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Trauma, PTSD, and Teenage Substance Abuse

There are many causes and risk factors that lead to teens using addictive substances, and trauma is one of them. Teen trauma statistics note that somewhere between 14 to 43 percent of children and teens experience one or more forms of trauma. Many children experience numerous or ongoing trauma. While some people are able to heal from the trauma and move on with little lasting effects, others may develop a mental health disorder like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to unresolved trauma.

Unresolved trauma causes physical and behavioral symptoms, fueling addiction.

Children and adolescents who experience trauma are often unequipped with the means to properly cope with the difficult thoughts and emotions it can invoke. Looking for a way to dull the pain or escape their circumstances, many may turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope. Teen trauma and substance abuse, if left unchecked, may develop into severe substance use problems in adulthood.

At Safe Landing Recovery for Teens, we begin by identifying those symptoms, then use therapy to help teens address the negative effects of trauma, including reprocessing their traumatic memories, overcoming problematic thoughts and behaviors, and developing effective coping and interpersonal skills. To help your teen overcome trauma and substance abuse, contact us today at 855-993-6311.

The Relationship Between Teen Trauma and Substance Abuse

Teen trauma and substance abuse have a strong connection — especially when the traumatic events or situations occur during childhood or early adolescence. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an incredibly disruptive and debilitating mental health condition rooted in unresolved trauma. The condition causes your brain to repeatedly relive the trauma, bringing back intense emotions and memories, along with anxiety, depression, nightmares, and other physical and behavioral symptoms. 

People with trauma and PTSD may turn to substances in order to counteract or minimize their continued 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 only amplify the symptoms of PTSD and can lead to addiction. In addition, drug and alcohol abuse often lead to risky behavior and poor judgment, which increase the likelihood of further trauma.

The good news? There’s treatment for trauma, PTSD, and substance use disorder.

Co-occurring substance use disorders  and PTSD often feed each other, which is why treating both conditions in tandem is so important. Failure to get treatment for teen trauma can undermine any recovery plan for either condition, causing distrust in the treatment process and further complications. Even if trauma hasn’t led to the development of a trauma disorder, it’s still important to address these underlying issues for healing from teen trauma to be successful. 

What Kinds of Traumas Cause PTSD for Teens?

Traumas are very stressful experiences that make a person feel unsafe or fear for others’ safety. 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 home environment, poverty, or exposure to war-time environments.

Some sources of teen trauma symptoms include witnessing or experiencing violent assaults, physical abuse, sexual abuse, rape, emotional or psychological violence, natural or man-made disasters, car accidents, or expriencing a debilitating injury or illness. There are many other types of traumatic events, and a mental health professional like those at Safe Landing Recovery can help you or your child identify trauma and its source.

Most people experience some form of trauma at some point in their lives, but not everyone will develop PTSD or other trauma disorders. 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. With PTSD, teen trauma symptoms can continue far beyond the traumatic experience itself, bringing thoughts and feelings of the trauma to the present.

A teenager may be dealing with trauma they have experienced during their high school years, or they may be grappling with past trauma from childhood that they haven’t resolved. Some teens may also be dealing with ongoing trauma throughout their lives, such as in an abusive household. It’s important for a teen to give a complete picture of their childhood and teen years to a mental health professional or treatment program in order to achieve the best results from treatment.

Teenage Trauma Symptoms

Teens with PTSD may be experiencing a range of symptoms without realizing the source, especially if the symptoms are in relation to past trauma from childhood. The unresolved trauma of PTSD can be accompanied by a variety of physical and emotional symptoms. They can include:

Many PTSD symptoms are centered on feeling as though the trauma is happening in the present, experiencing thoughts or feelings similar to the traumatic situation, or trying to avoid triggers that make you or your child think of it. Teen trauma and substance abuse come into play when people in this age group turn to drugs or alcohol to help them deal with the teenage trauma symptoms.

Even if a teen doesn’t develop PTSD, they can still have symptoms associated with the trauma and reactions to it. A professional may refer to these as PTSD-like symptoms. In this case, the teen may think about the trauma and feel upset or distressed. These symptoms may last for up to a month after the traumatic experience. If they last longer, the teen may be diagnosed with PTSD, depending on a professional’s assessment. This mental health condition is different from trauma because it means the person cannot cope with the trauma. The trauma has made the brain overactive in reaction to threats, so the person has trouble feeling safe afterward.

There are some factors that make the development of PTSD from a trauma more likely. These include if the trauma was particularly severe, if the person has experienced trauma in the past, and if their life holds a lot of stress overall. They are also at higher risk if they have mental health disorders like depression or have a family history, and when they lack healthy support from other people.

Dealing with Trauma Reminders

Trauma reminders can include certain places, situations, people, words, sounds, smells, sensations, or days of the year that remind teens of the trauma but are not actually dangerous. When teens experience these reminders, they may feel unsafe or as if they were living through the trauma over again. This may cause them to engage in behaviors that don’t fit the situation or get them in trouble with others. Avoiding anything associated with the trauma reminder may also get in the way of life and the things they like to do.

At Safe Landing, we can help teens become aware of possible reminders and use coping and relaxation skills to manage emotional reactions better. Our therapists can also help teens take small steps to be able to face situations that remind them of trauma in a safe way so that they don’t have to keep avoiding. 

How Does Teenage Trauma Affect Adulthood?

You may be wondering whether trauma in childhood or the teen years will continue to affect the person as they grow older. This is a good question, because trauma during childhood and teen years can in fact impact a person throughout their lifetime. If a teen develops mental health problems from the trauma, these have the potential to continue into or reemerge in adulthood.

The trauma may impact a person’s relationships throughout their life, if traumatic experiences lead them to be wary of other people or detached from them. Also, people who experienced trauma in childhood are likely to have many symptoms, behaviors, and experiences that affect their life, including depression, anxiety, panic attacks, using alcohol or drugs, becoming obese, and more.

Finding healing from teen trauma can help the person recover from the intense stress and give them the ability to cope. This process can help to reduce the risk of the trauma turning into post-traumatic stress disorder, or treat PTSD if that is present. Treatment for teen trauma can guide the healing journey, as can self-care activities and gaining support from loved ones.

Can Trauma Therapy Help My Teen?

Treatment is possible for teens who are facing the effects of trauma. There is hope for healing and moving beyond the trauma to experience a fuller, less fearful life.

Can trauma therapy help? 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. A young person may benefit from teenage trauma counseling, which gives them a chance to safely process and heal from the trauma with the guidance and support of a mental health professional. It’s best to work with a professional who is specifically trained in trauma. Treatment like we have at Safe Landing Recovery can help with processing the short-term effects of trauma or with the long-term symptoms associated with PTSD.

Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy may be used to address the trauma directly. This type of therapy tends to help the person work on their thoughts and feelings, as well as to reduce their reactions to triggers. The teen may learn healthy coping strategies to help them manage life without experiencing post-traumatic symptoms or turning to substances or other risky behaviors to temporarily make them feel better.

Safe Landing has extensive experience helping teens overcome trauma and the self-medicating behavior of substance abuse. Our comprehensive approach combines evidence-based therapy with a safe, supportive environment that helps teens reprocess upsetting memories while learning new techniques to cope with everyday stressors. By reprocessing these events and emotions, it’s possible to experience a profound sense of relief — both physically and psychologically, which enables teens to enjoy life and their relationships with others more.

Elements of trauma therapy include:

In addition, our Safe Landing teen treatment programs 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 experiences; 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.

Depending on the individual treatment plan, medication may also be part of the healing process. Certain medications could help the teen with trauma-related problems like anxiety or sleep problems. Mental health professionals who are trained in teen trauma can also help support a positive family dynamic. They are able to teach parents how to be supportive and help their teen feel safe and heal from trauma.

Healing from teen trauma may also involve addressing co-occurring disorders. These commonly include concerns like depression or anxiety, which can be symptoms of PTSD. In addition, a teen who faces trauma may have turned to drugs or alcohol with the mistaken idea that it would help them deal with their difficult symptoms.

In time, they may develop problematic substance use, especially if they continue to use addictive substances over time. Continuing to turn to substances as a way to cope with trauma creates dependence, tolerance, and behaviors associated with addiction. It may be necessary to treat substance use disorder and PTSD together if they are co-occurring and contributing to one another.

Treating Trauma and Substance Abuse: Where Do We Start?

Before we address the trauma itself at Safe Landing Recovery, we start by making sure your teen is safe and stable. This usually involves a medical detox program, so any toxic substances are eliminated from your child’s system. (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 inpatientpartial hospitalization, or our intensive outpatient program

If your child is dealing with trauma and PTSD in addition to substance abuse, we will address it in one-on-one trauma therapy, as well as in group therapy. Other useful treatment options for trauma that our professionals may use 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. We are here to guide your teen to a place where they feel safe and no longer react so strongly to situations. Your teen can move beyond fear, anxiety and pain and feel whole again.

Call Safe Landing today at 855-993-6311 to learn more about how we can help with your teen’s trauma and PTSD!

Learn more about how we can help your teen with trauma and PTSD.

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