Dealing with trauma is not rare. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 6 of every 10 men (60%) and 5 of every 10 women (50%) can identify one or more traumatic events in their life.
Women are more likely to experience sexual assault and child sexual abuse. Men are more likely to experience accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster, or to witness death or injury.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), in a given year, approximately 3.6% of American adults develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This syndrome encompasses physical and psychological responses to trauma along a spectrum, with some being mild and others interfering with a person’s ability to function in daily life.
Certain groups have a high PTSD prevalence including:
- People living in a consistently negative and unhealthy environment
- People working or residing in an active war zone
- People with a personal or family history of substance use or mental health disorders
- People with a low socioeconomic mobility
- People with childhoods affected by abuse or neglect
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
PTSD is a mental health condition that some people acquire after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening incident such as a battle, a natural catastrophe, a vehicle accident, or sexual assault. A person can feel helpless and scared during this type of incident since they have no control over what’s going on. Anyone who has experienced something similar to this may have the potential to develop PTSD.
With PTSD, feelings are not confined to the event in question. They don’t fade with time and they remain filled with energy like a live wire or an exposed nerve, needing only to be jostled to trigger emotions that feel like the event is happening over again. It can affect the whole body, and many people display physical symptoms (e.g., never sitting with their back to the door).
Once known as shellshock, PTSD has been noted for the physical nature of some of its symptoms and has even been hypothesized to be the result of air concussion. Our current understanding of PTSD is that it involves disrupting the storage in the brain of certain sensory information with high emotional content. The symptoms represent the behavioral manifestation of stress-induced changes in brain structure and function. Stress results in acute and chronic changes in neurochemical systems and specific brain regions, which result in long-term changes in brain circuits.
What Causes Trauma Responses?
Many people who suffer from PTSD have powerful, unsettling thoughts and sensations that persist long after the terrible event. In flashbacks or dreams, individuals may relive the incident and feel grief, fear, or rage. They may also feel alienated or estranged from others.
Because of the connection to the past event and the diverting nature of the symptoms, some have trouble with keeping an accurate perception of time surrounding an episode. Persons who suffer from PTSD may avoid circumstances or persons that remind them of the traumatic incident, and they may have significant negative emotions to something as simple as a loud noise or an unintentional touch.
PTSD responses involve:
- Mental exhaustion and lethargy
- Insomnia and hypersomnia
- Confusion and lack of focus
- Anxiety and stress
- Mood swings
- Loss of sense of time and place
- Dissociation or a sense of numbness
- Nightmares and other sleep disturbances
- Intrusive thoughts
- Fear of the event repeating itself
- Hypervigilance and ongoing “fight or flight” arousal
Trauma and Substance Abuse
The link between trauma and Substance Use Disorder (SUD) is complex, but they do connect in some critical ways:
- Substance misuse increases the likelihood of being exposed to a traumatic or extremely stressful situation.
- The risk of having a SUD increases with a diagnosis of PTSD or exposure to a traumatic incident.
- Some substances increase risk-taking behaviors, raising the chance of a traumatic injury considerably.
- Some people abuse or get addicted to substances obtained legally or illegally to alleviate the symptoms of trauma.
At SoCal Mental Health, our clinicians collaborate to teach clients important life skills and coping techniques so that if episodes occur, you are equipped with the tools you need. Whatever kind of trauma you’ve experienced, we can teach you how to process it in a healthy and safe way while also treating your SUD.
Treatment for Trauma & SUD
SoCal Mental Health’s professional team can provide helpful advice and vital skills for taking back control of trauma reactions. In addition, skills and resources necessary are provided to help ensure a successful recovery from a substance use disorder (SUD).
Medication-Assisted Treatment can be used in treating trauma and substance use disorders. Medication is prescribed on an as-needed basis based on diagnosis and symptoms. Decisions regarding whether to use medication for treatment will be made with the help of mental health professionals and the medical director.
Psychotherapy, otherwise known as “talk therapy”, can be used to help treat symptoms associated with trauma and addiction. This evidence-based therapy can be performed in a group, couple, family, or individual session with a therapist.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
- Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART)
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Holistic Therapy can be used to help treat symptoms associated with trauma and substance abuse. Holistic modalities are often used to complement traditional therapies and treatments. These treatments can help overall wellbeing in addition to personality disorders.
Alternative Holistic Therapies offered:
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR)
- Yoga Therapy
- Art therapy