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What is the Connection Between Trauma and Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders?

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A question often asked in regard to substance use disorders is whether there is a direct link between trauma and the development of co-occurring disorders. 

Does trauma cause mental health problems and addiction? There’s no clear-cut answer to the question but it is undeniable that trauma ranks high among the myriad contributors of co-occurring disorders. 

Addiction does not occur in a vacuum but is a result of a combination of factors including peer pressure, mental health challenges, a genetic predisposition, family involvement, and of course trauma, especially childhood trauma. 

What is Trauma and Trauma Treatment? 

The American Psychological Association defines psychological trauma as an emotional response to an unforgettably bad experience such as rape, accident, natural disaster, and child abuse. Any person can at any age experience trauma in an event that they find to be physically, emotionally, or psychologically harmful or life-threatening.

A person who experiences trauma can have emotional and physical reactions immediately after the event or may experiemce these later on in life. Reactions may include challenging emotions such as can helplessness or shock, and physical symptoms and reactions may also be present. 

Trauma reactions can persist for long periods of time and may culminate mental health challenges or a diagnosis known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Trauma can be classified into several categories or types including the following: 

  • Acute trauma which is caused by a dangerous or life-threatening event.
  • Chronic trauma that is caused by prolonged and repeated exposure to stressful events such as bullying, child abuse, and domestic violence.
  • Complex trauma that is caused by a combination of multiple stressful experiences or events. 
  • Secondary trauma where a person shows symptoms of trauma because of being in close contact with someone who suffered from a traumatic event. 

Unfortunately, experiencing trauma significantly increases the chances of a  person developing both mental health and substance abuse problems. Many people often choose to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to cope with painful emotions or physical symptoms. It is therefore important to seek help for co-occurring disorders that may be related to trauma via trauma treatment that integrates knowledge of treating co-occurring disorders.

What Are Co-Occurring Disorders? 

Co-occurring disorders affect millions of individuals around the world. The term co-occurring disorders basically refers to the existence of a mental health problem and substance abuse or addiction in a person at the same time. Mental health and substance abuse disorders affect similar areas of the brain. 

Co-occurring disorders can involve one specific mental health condition and a substance abuse problem or involve multiple substance use problems together with several mental health conditions at the same time. 

Co-occurring disorders are quite common. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there are over 8 million people in the United States with co-occurring disorders.

Co-occurring disorders can be found in people of all ages and social or economic classes. SAMHSA studies have also shown that people with mental health conditions are twice as likely to suffer from substance use disorders. People struggling with substance abuse are also twice likely to suffer from mental health conditions. 

The Link Between Trauma Treatment and Co-Occurring Disorders

People with a history of exposure to traumatic events, especially childhood trauma, have often been found to suffer from a combination of mental health and substance abuse problems, also known as co-occurring disorders. This means that there is a clear but complex link between trauma and co-occurring disorders. 

Studies show that over 70% of teenagers and adolescents in substance abuse recovery today have at one or more times in their lives been exposed things that are considered traumatic. Over two-thirds of people with PTSD have a substance use problem as well. 

It has also been found that 3 in every 4 women with mental health and substance abuse problems have at one time or more in their lives experienced sexual abuse. The statistics show a strong correlation between trauma and co-occurring disorders but why is this so?

Substance abuse and addiction are often caused by mental health conditions related to trauma. A good example is PTSD which causes strong feelings of guilt or fear which may result in a person turning to drugs or alcohol to cope. 

This type of self-medication can involve a wide range of substances including painkillers and benzodiazepines. The substances offer temporary relief from emotional pain but the person may then suffer feelings of sadness or depression and painful withdrawal symptoms when the effects of the substances wear off. 

Challenges related to experience traumatic experiences also make it more difficult for people to stop or cut back on drinking or using drugs. Memories of the traumatic experience can trigger cravings and lead to a relapse in a person recovering from substance use. The synptoms that come along with unaddressed trauma can make it difficult for people with co-occurring disorders to recover and regain control of their lives. 

Trauma Treatment for Related Co-Occurring Disorders

An integrated trauma treatment approach is often recommended by SAMHSA as the most effective treatment for co-occurring disorders caused by traumatic experiences. 

The integrated treatment process involves coordinated therapy involving both mental health and substance use interventions rather than treating each problem separately.

The integrated approach combines different types of therapies including the following: 

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Dialectical behavior therapy
  • Evidence-based trauma therapy
  • Medication management
  • Support groups
  • Relapse prevention education 

Integrated Trauma Treatment in Arlington, VA for Co-Occurring Disorders at Encore Outpatient Services

Substance use problems has many causes including trauma. If you have had traumatic experiences in your life, you may be susceptible to using drugs or alcohol to cope with the feelings, memories, or physical symptoms that have developed as a results of these experiences and events. 

You don’t need to suffer alone or feel frustrated with yourself. Help is only a phone call away. You can start recovering from your traumatic experiences, overcome substance use problems, and live a happier and more fulfilled life.

Contact us today to learn more about our trauma treatment in Arlington, VA.

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