Dealing with Psychological Trauma as Part of Addiction Recovery
Many of us turned to alcohol or drugs in an attempt to deal with psychological trauma. Giving up these substances is the first step towards a better life, but we also have to deal with the inner pain that has been the driving force behind our destructive behaviours. One of the benefits of entering an addiction rehabilitation centre is we will have the opportunity to begin dealing and learning to manage psychological trauma.
“Psychological trauma is the most common complicating factor in treatment and recovery from addictive disorders and can seriously impede personal, interpersonal, and spiritual growth in recovery”
Bruce Carruth (Psychological Trauma and Addiction Treatment)
What is Psychological Trauma?
Psychological trauma occurs when if we experience an event that is so stressful that it leaves us feeling hopeless and helpless. The event wounds us, and it changes the way we see the world. Psychological trauma can occur as a result of a single event or a combination of events. When it occurs, it means that we feel compelled to develop strategies for dealing with our pain, and this can include self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. We are also likely to put up emotional barriers as a type of defence, but this cuts us off from other people – it also takes a lot of joy out of life because we can only experience true happiness to the extent that we are willing to risk being hurt.
It is important to understand that it is not the exact nature of the event that determines if you become traumatized or not but your subjective interpretation of the event. This explains why two people can experience the same event yet only one of them is traumatised. An event is more likely to be experienced as psychological trauma if it fits some of the following criteria:
• It happened out of the blue (unexpectedly)
• You had no power to prevent the event
• You experienced an initial event in childhood
• It involved some form of cruelty/abuse
• You didn’t have the ability or support to cope with it
• The event happened more than once
If a person experienced trauma in childhood, they are more likely to be traumatised by challenging events in adulthood. People who have low self-esteem are also going to be more at risk of perceiving an event as traumatic.
Symptoms of Psychological Trauma
• Substance abuse
How to Deal with Psychological Trauma in Addiction Recovery
If you have experienced psychological trauma, you are likely to have developed emotional barriers that you use to try and protect yourself from painful feelings. The problem is that these barriers are holding you back in life, and they put you at high risk of turning to maladaptive behaviour such as substance abuse. Recovery is all about removing these emotional barriers and dealing with your demons. This is most easily done in the safe environment of a rehab and with the help of a therapist who you trust. Most of the team here at Twin Rivers have needed to deal with psychological trauma in our own lives, and we can use our knowledge and experience to lead you to emotional freedom.
David is the Clinical and Development Director of Twin Rivers Rehab in South Africa and a UK Accredited Addictions Therapist with the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals UK. Articles/Blogs are written with the assistance of researchers and other specialists in the field of addiction and the recovery process