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People who have experienced psychological trauma and PTSD often turn to substances as a coping mechanism.

Trauma and Substance Abuse

As treatment for substance abuse has grown more sophisticated, so has our understanding of the relationship between trauma and addiction. Exposure to traumatic experiences, especially in childhood, is linked to a much higher likelihood of substance abuse disorders. 

Substances can temporarily numb the emotions and sensations that accompany the underlying trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For example, someone who feels constant anxiety as a result of unaddressed trauma might turn to alcohol, marijuana or prescription “downers” as a way of manufacturing a sense of calm. Someone whose trauma has manifested as depression, on the other hand, might use cocaine or other stimulants in order to feel an artificial sense of power and vitality.

While these substances may serve a purpose in the short term, they can easily open the door to addiction and substance abuse disorders — which only compound the emotional challenges of the original trauma. What’s more, the poor judgment and risky behavior that often comes with substance abuse can lead to new traumas. The result is a cycle of trauma and self-medication that can be deeply damaging.

Counselor Brandon Rodgriuez discusses the correlation between stress, trauma responses, and addiction as well has how EMDR can help address these underlying issues.


Trauma and PTSD can manifest in a wide variety of ways, both physically and behaviorally. Some of the more identifiable signs of trauma and PTSD include:

How Do We Treat Substance Abuse With Co-Occurring Trauma and PTSD?

Before the trauma and PTSD can be addressed, it’s important to identify and begin treatment for substance abuse. This begins with an intake session, where we get to know you and your situation a bit better. In many cases, treatment will proceed with medical detox, so you can safely and comfortably rid your body of toxic substances.

We’ll work closely with you to develop an individualized recovery plan that’s tailored just to your needs. If you’re suffering from trauma and/or PTSD, we’ll absolutely want to address that in your treatment plan. You’ll likely benefit from trauma therapy and EMDR, either in an individual or group setting. Other options, such as equine-assisted therapy, music therapy and art therapy, can provide a powerful emotional outlet when used in tandem with trauma-focused therapy and EMDR. Also, our emphasis on wellness can be especially useful in finding a sense of balance and wellbeing in recovery.

What Are Trauma Therapy and EMDR?

When you experience a traumatic event or situation, your body responds by releasing stress hormones: cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones shut off the parts of the brain that are responsible for reprocessing the traumatic events — so it prevents your brain from processing the event. The natural response to trauma is “fight or flight,” i.e., the source of PTSD and anxiety from traumatic events.

Meanwhile, when we are asleep, our bodies go through various stages, including rapid eye movement — or dreaming sleep. This phase involves your eyes darting back and forth in quick motion, which in turn triggers the part of your brain responsible for reprocessing the memories of that day.  “EMDR” is short for “eye movement desensitization reprocessing.” EMDR uses very specific eye movements to stimulate the part of the brain that can help you reprocess these memories appropriately. Paired with talk therapy, EMDR has had proven success in treating trauma — and strengthening recovery. 

If you’d like to learn more about how we treat both trauma and substance abuse (or PTSD and substance abuse), we’d love to talk with you. Reach out to Discovery Point Retreat today.

Trauma and PTSD are treatable. Discovery Point Retreat has tools to help you heal.


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