February 26, 2020

It's Complicated - Trauma and Substance Abuse
While psychological trauma is characterized by disruptions in a person’s sense of control, addiction can also be viewed as a disorder of control, or more accurately, an inability to control. The loss of control is insidious, often unrecognized by the addict until, in Alcoholics Anonymous terms, life becomes unmanageable.”

~Psychological Trauma and Addiction Treatment, edited by Dr. Bruce Carruth, PhD, LCSW

According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 25% of American children experience at least one potentially-traumatic experience before they reach adulthood. Attempting to cope with that trauma leads many teens into substance use and, ultimately, addiction.

What Types of Trauma Might Children Experience?

Trauma refers to any experience that is painful, emotionally distressing, and beyond the control of the individual. Using that definition, there are many instances where a teenager might feel powerless:

The Link between Trauma and Addiction

The correlation between trauma and addiction has been suggested by several studies:

Substance Abuse as a Coping Mechanism

Trauma results in complex feelings that can be difficult to process, so a suffering teenager may turn to alcohol or drugs. They do this for two primary reasons:

Ultimately, however, attempting to cope with painful experiences by using intoxicating substances only makes the situation worse by increasing the risk of further trauma.

How Substance Abuse Can Lead to Trauma

Teen drug use or excessive drinking can lead to engaging in other risky behaviors which can result in new trauma. Some commonplace examples of this are:

How to Help Teens with Co-Occurring Trauma and Addiction

Treating comorbid disorders is always difficult, but there are specific challenges to providing services for teenagers. Teens usually enter in recovery program against their wills, because they are brought in by their parents, ordered to attend by the Court, or referred by their school. Right from the start, they may show reluctance to adhere to their prescribed treatment plan.

Furthermore, traumatized teens often have difficulty expressing their emotions, a key component to a successful return to sobriety. “Acting out” may be the only way they know how to communicate.

Integrated and individualized evidence-based strategies that address both the trauma and the addiction simultaneously are the most effective way to give a suffering teen the help they need. Successful strategies may include:

If your teenager has experienced trauma and is turning to drugs or alcohol for relief, help IS available. For nearly 40 years, Teensavers Treatment Centers have provided a welcoming environment where teens can safely detox and receive treatment for substance abuse, behavioral, and emotional issues.

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