What Is Trauma-Informed Addiction Treatment?

2 min read · 3 sections

For many people who struggle with addiction, substance use serves as a coping mechanism to minimize the emotional pain of past trauma. Whether it be a physical issue, such as a car accident or military injury, or psychological trauma, such as verbal abuse or the death of a loved one, recovery from addiction is difficult if this contributing factor is not also addressed. Trauma-informed addiction treatment aims to do just that by integrating these past issues into broader addiction treatment methods.

What Is Trauma?

Trauma is an unconscious emotional response to a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. It is problematic because it causes shock and denial, which minimizes a person’s ability to process their feelings in a productive and healthy way. This can cause a wide range of negative emotions, including fear, anxiety, anger, guilt, sadness, shame, and hopelessness. Trauma can also lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and trigger physical symptoms, including headaches, digestive issues, dizziness, racing heartbeat, and flashbacks.

The Link Between Trauma and Addiction

People often turn to alcohol and drugs to combat the uncomfortable emotional and physical symptoms of trauma, which is why addiction and trauma are so closely linked. The technique may even seem effective at first, as these substances lower inhibitions and produce initial feelings of calmness and relaxation. Addiction in Lawyers: 5 Signs to Look For

But once the short-term benefits wear off—and the unresolved trauma and negative feelings associated with it resurface—the discomfort returns, and the addiction cycle starts all over again. Unless the underlying trauma is addressed, it can be extremely difficult for a person to resist the urge to self-medicate.1

Common Trauma-Informed Treatment Methods

There are a number of different therapies that can be incorporated into addiction treatment to help address trauma. Some of the most common include:

  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): This type of therapy involves reprocessing disturbing memories while engaging in a guided combination of eye movements, audio stimulation, and hand tapping or bell ringing. It’s often used to treat PTSD and other co-occurring anxiety disorders such as panic attacks and phobias.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): A type of cognitive-behavioral therapy, DBT teaches individuals specific skills to help them cope with uncomfortable feelings and change unhealthy behavior. It was originally developed to treat borderline personality disorder but has become a common treatment trauma-informed addiction treatment methods among rehabs and clinicians.
  • Seeking Safety: Seeking Safety is an evidence-based, skills-focused therapy for people with a history of substance misuse and trauma. It can be conducted in either group or individual treatment settings. Seeking Safety is designed to help participants develop healthy coping skills for handling uncomfortable emotions.

American Addiction Centers offers a host of treatment programs that include co-occurring disorder programs and trauma-based therapy for myriad types of trauma, including childhood trauma, experiences unique to Veterans and first responders, and more. With facilities across the country, American Addiction Centers offers evidence-based treatments led by certified clinicians. AAC facilities include:

Contact AAC at to learn more about treatment for yourself and/or a loved one. Ready to lend a caring ear, our admissions navigators can answer your questions about treatment, payment options, and more.

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