Why Should You Give Trauma Attention In Holistic Addiction Treatment

Trauma is making a comeback as an increasingly recognized and treated co-occurring disorder in addiction treatment. We have long understood that trauma and addictions frequently go hand in hand, but a growing number of clinicians and treatment programs are developing the resources to comprehensively treat both addiction and trauma.

It is believed that most traumatic memories are suppressed by the mind and stored in areas of the brain and body that are thought to be inaccessible through words alone. In response to trauma, the individual’s emotional, mental, and physical states are disrupted. In treatment, each of these areas must be addressed, often through a combination of the following mind-body interventions:


In holistic behavioral psychotherapy, Individual, group, and family therapy address the emotional and psychological elements of trauma, including shame, fear, and thinking errors, and help the patient develop self-regulation, interpersonal and coping skills. They are also an important source of social support. Still, a trauma survivor may participate in years of therapy without making significant progress. They may find it difficult to identify or put their feelings into words, or they may shut down completely in talk therapy. This is where somatic work can be an effective complementary intervention.

Somatic Experiencing

During therapy, the patient tracks their own bodily sensations in an effort to release trauma-related tension that has been stored in the body. Patients are exposed to manageable amounts of distress until they develop tolerance and an ability to self-regulate.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

EMDR blends cognitive-behavioral therapy and other approaches with repetitive, left-right eye movements or other stimuli such as tapping or auditory tones. The patient focuses on traumatic memories while tracking the therapist’s moving finger with their eyes. Over a series of sessions, these movements release traumatic memories and allow the patient to resolve them with guidance from a trained clinician. Research shows that EMDR is an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Other useful trauma-based approaches include psychodrama, therapeutic massage, and expressive art therapy (using music, dance, or other art forms), among others. Typical goals of trauma treatment are to challenge self-limiting beliefs, such as “I’m defective” or “I’m unworthy of love,” and enhance the patient’s sense of physical and emotional safety.

Although a number of addiction treatment programs still use a confrontational, humiliation-based approach, tough love is not effective (and can be extremely damaging) for trauma survivors – and is rarely, if ever, a beneficial approach for most people recovering from the disease of addiction. In fact, trauma survivors can be re-traumatized by this type of treatment, making it counter-productive for both trauma and addiction recovery. Instead, patients struggling with trauma and addiction benefit from working with a compassionate, respectful treatment team that understands the role addiction has played in their lives.

Re-traumatization can also occur as a result of addiction. Although drug use may initially allow the trauma survivor to function, over time, the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual losses brought on by addiction can exacerbate trauma symptoms. Drug use also puts the trauma survivor at increased risk for sexual assault, domestic violence, homelessness, and other traumatizing experiences.

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