Trauma and addiction can be two battles anyone can face after going through a horrible ordeal. The trauma your patient has been through may have led them to use drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. By having your patient understand the importance of trauma-informed care, both your patient’s addiction and trauma can be addressed for lasting recovery and healing.

Trauma Defined

If your patient has experienced trauma, they have been through or have witnessed something that left them in a state of shock. Traumatic events can put your patient in a situation where they feel powerless, which can bring a variety of negative feelings. Examples of traumatic events can include:

  • Witnessing an act of violence
  • Sexual assault
  • Natural disasters
  • Childhood abuse
  • Armed conflict

Survivors of traumatic events may experience symptoms like bad dreams of the event that make it hard for them to stay asleep. They could also be triggered by flashbacks whenever a sight, sound, or even smell reminds them of the event. This can lead to your patient going out of their way to make sure they avoid anything that can lead to a trigger. Negative emotions like being on edge, irritable, or depressed may follow. 

Trauma and Addiction

Trauma can cause abnormalities in the brain structure, leading to a dysregulated nervous system. These abnormalities can cause various problems with cognition and behavior. This is because high cortisol levels and stress hormones that are commonly associated with trauma can halt normal brain development. 

As a result of brain and nervous system changes, trauma can lead to various mental health issues. The symptoms associated with trauma and mental health disorders can be distressing and extremely challenging to handle. As a result, your patient may turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. Unfortunately, as they continue to use substances to numb their pain and forget about their trauma, they perpetuate the cycle of addiction. Eventually, they will need more and more of their substance of choice to feel the desired effects.

What Is Trauma-Informed Care?

Trauma-informed care is an approach to treating patients that seeks to:

  • Realize the widespread impact of trauma and understand paths for recovery
  • Recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in patients, families, and staff
  • Integrate knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices
  • Actively avoid re-traumatization

The goal of trauma-informed care is to treat patients from the standpoint of “What happened to you?” rather than “What’s wrong with you?” According to the Trauma-Informed Care Implementation Resource Center, adopting trauma-informed practices can improve patient engagement, treatment adherence, and health outcomes. Trauma-informed care can also enhance provider and staff wellness. 

The Principles of Trauma-Informed Care

The core principles of a trauma-informed approach to addiction treatment include:

  • Safety: Throughout a center for drug and alcohol treatment, patients and staff should feel physically and psychologically safe.
  • Trustworthiness and transparency: Decisions about care should be made with transparency, with the goal of building and maintaining trust. 
  • Peer support: Individuals with shared experiences are integrated into the organization and viewed as an essential part of service delivery.
  • Collaboration: Power differences between staff and patients are leveled to support shared decision-making. 
  • Empowerment: Patient and staff strengths are recognized, built on, and validated. Empowerment includes a belief in resilience and the ability to heal from trauma.
  • Humility and responsiveness: Biases, stereotypes, and historical trauma are recognized and addressed. 

Implementing Trauma-Informed Practices

The first step in implementing trauma-informed practices into addiction treatment is to recognize how common trauma is. Once providers can recognize how many people experience trauma, they can work toward understanding that every patient who walks through the doors of a treatment facility may have experienced trauma. Trauma-informed care aims not to question patients about their experiences but to assume they may have a trauma history and act accordingly. 

The Importance of Trauma-Informed Care

Patients need a voice in their treatment planning and should play an active role in the decision-making process. However, in traditional addiction treatment, clinicians may make the decisions surrounding a treatment plan – such as what type of therapy the patient will engage in – without involving the patient. With trauma-informed care, patients get the opportunity to be actively engaged in their treatment process. A discussion about their needs should drive the direction of a treatment plan.

When treating individuals with substance use disorder (SUD), providing trauma-informed care where patients have a role in the treatment process is crucial. When providers in a facility can come from a place of understanding and work hard to not re-traumatize a patient, the patient is more likely to stay in treatment and see success in their recovery process. 

Trauma-informed care is an effective method of treatment for addiction. Trauma and addiction go hand in hand. When your patient has witnessed or been through a terrifying experience, they may feel like drugs and alcohol are the only way to cope. However, with a trauma-informed approach to treatment, your patient can learn to trust providers so they can work through their trauma and heal from addiction. Hawaii Island Recovery, one of the leading drug abuse treatment centers in Hawaii, can provide your patient with the proper care they need for a successful recovery. Located in Kailua, Hawaii, Hawaii Island Recovery services patients with trained specialists in both trauma and addiction to tackle any obstacle standing in the way of recovery. Our services can provide patients with EMDR, experiential treatment, 12-Step meetings, individualized and group therapy, and more. For more information on how we can help your patients struggling with trauma and addiction, call (866) 390-5070.