Unresolved trauma is one of the leading causes of drug and alcohol abuse. Without treatment, exposure to traumatic events can have prolonged effects on the mind of the individual. People may become isolated from friends and family, experience intense flashbacks and intrusive thoughts, and experience hesitance and distrust when it comes to seeking treatment. As a result, some individuals self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.

Trauma therapy is an approach used during addiction treatment to address trauma and addiction simultaneously.

The Connection Between Trauma, PTSD, and Addiction

Studies suggest that exposure to trauma and the development of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can significantly increase a person’s risk of substance abuse and addiction. In fact, people with PTSD are 2 to 4 times more likely than others to meet the criteria for substance use disorder (SUD). And, among patients seeking treatment, patients with PTSD have been up to 14 times more likely to also meet the criteria for at least one SUD.[1]

Due to the high rates of comorbidity between trauma, PTSD, and addiction, trauma therapy is often utilized by addiction treatment centers to serve this population.

There are many different events that are considered traumatic. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Childhood sexual abuse
  • Childhood emotional abuse or neglect
  • Sexual violence
  • Rape
  • Divorce
  • Physical assault
  • Military combat
  • Natural disaster
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Car accident
  • Bullying
  • Robbery
  • Chronic illness
  • Serious injury
  • Learning that trauma occurred to a close loved one
  • Domestic violence or abuse

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that develops after repeated exposure to potentially traumatic events. The more traumatic experiences a person has, the more likely they are to develop PTSD.[2]

Symptoms of PTSD

People who have been exposed to trauma, especially those with repeated trauma, may develop PTSD. Individuals with PTSD are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol as a result of the inability to cope with their distressing symptoms in a healthy way.

Symptoms of PTSD include:[2]

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Hypervigilance
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Night terrors
  • Flashbacks
  • Intrusive memories
  • Numbness
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty expressing emotions
  • Difficulty experiencing pleasure
  • Impulsivity
  • Self-destructive behaviors
  • Avoiding certain people, places, or things that trigger these symptoms

Many of these symptoms are similar to those of addiction and alcoholism, which is why rehab centers often incorporate trauma therapy into their addiction treatment program.

What is Trauma-Informed Care?

Trauma-informed care refers to a collection of therapies that aim to understand how trauma is processed in the brain. While this approach doesn’t aim to treat the traumatic experience, its goal is to help patients manage their symptoms and reduce the likelihood of future trauma.

Trauma-informed care, when applied in drug and alcohol treatment, is framed around 3 core tenets:

  1. Trauma survivors need to be informed about the treatment process, respected when it comes to their boundaries, and optimistic about recovery.
  2. There is a direct relationship between trauma and drug/alcohol use.
  3. Treatment should involve collaboration between family, friends, and other persons involved with the survivor to promote recovery.

When this ideology is applied in the context of traditional addiction treatment therapies, it can increase long-term outcomes in patients struggling with trauma, PTSD, and addiction.

6 Key Principles of Trauma-Informed Care

According to the SAMHSA, there are 6 key principles of trauma-informed care. These guiding principles are used by trauma therapists to cultivate a trusting, safe, and compassionate environment for patients.[3] These principles are:

  1. Safety – Patients must feel safe in order to open up about their trauma and begin healing.
  2. Trustworthiness and transparency – Patients must trust their therapist and feel comfortable being open, honest, and transparent with him or her.
  3. Peer support – Peer support and mutual self-help are vital for establishing safety, building trust, and enabling healing. Having a support network can help combat loneliness, depression, and other symptoms of PTSD and trauma.
  4. Collaboration and mutuality – Once trust develops between a patient, the therapist, and peers, the group can work together to overcome complex issues.
  5. Empowerment, voice, and choice – Therapists work to empower patients to recognize their voice and independence so patients can feel secure in the choices they make.
  6. Cultural, historical, and gender issues – Therapy must offer gender-specific services as well as those that take into consideration factors and biases like race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, religion, identity, gender, geography, and culture.

Components of Trauma Therapy in Addiction Treatment

Trauma-informed care uses the 6 key principles and applies them to a variety of therapeutic interventions. Some components of trauma therapy that are used in addiction treatment include:

  • Individual and group behavioral therapy – Therapies like Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) are applied in group and individual therapy sessions to help patients recognize destructive thoughts or behaviors and replace them with healthy coping mechanisms.
  • Grief and loss counseling – Grief and loss groups to help patients overcome the loss of a loved one, relationship, and more.
  • Holistic therapyHolistic healing methods can promote healing and healthy habits. These include mindfulness, yoga, meditation, massage, acupuncture, music, dance, and art.
  • Pharmacotherapy – Medications for anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other symptoms can be prescribed to help reduce symptoms.
  • Gender-specific therapies – Men and women are likely to have different traumatic experiences, so gender-specific therapies can be beneficial as they separate the genders and focus on their unique experiences.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – EMDR is a psychotherapy that utilizes eye movements to help people recover from emotional distress and symptoms of PTSD. It can also help individuals struggling with anxiety, depression, and panic disorders, all of which are common among people with substance use disorder.[4]

Trauma Therapy and Addiction Treatment in Florida

Here at Comprehensive Wellness Centers, we don’t just help you stop using drugs and alcohol – we help you address the underlying issues at their root so you are able to stay sober and heal completely. Our evidence-based programs incorporate trauma-informed care to treat both PTSD and addiction. To learn more about our trauma program or to find help for a loved one, pick up the phone and contact us today.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3811127/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5126802/
  3. https://ncsacw.samhsa.gov/userfiles/files/SAMHSA_Trauma.pdf
  4. https://www.emdria.org/about-emdr-therapy/