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Support for Survivors Overcoming Substance Misuse and Trauma - WTLC
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Support for Survivors Overcoming Substance Misuse and Trauma

24 Aug Support for Survivors Overcoming Substance Misuse and Trauma


Research shows a strong correlation between substance misuse and trauma.  As a general term, trauma is an overwhelming event (or series of events) in which a person feels physically or emotionally threatened.  The experience of trauma can lead to symptoms of anxiety, depression, flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, isolation, difficulty connecting with others, and avoidance of anything that triggers memories of the event.

The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) found that after experiencing a traumatic event such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, violent crime, or even natural disasters, people often turn to substances as a way to cope (2020).  The effects of alcohol and drugs serve to numb debilitating feelings or distract from overwhelming emotions. 

Substances become a problem when they are the primary coping skill used in order to deal with historical or current trauma.  Without intervention, substance use that might have begun as a seemingly effective way to ease discomfort can quickly become a full-blown disorder. Individuals can become emotionally and physically addicted to the substance and unable to cope with the aftermath of trauma.  Chronic substance use leads to many long lasting negative effects on the body and mind such as: liver failure, cardiovascular disease, decreased brain function, social isolation, increased depression and suicidality (CDC, 2020).

Substance misuse prevents the traumatized individual from processing their experiences and finding meaning in life after trauma.  Beyond that, the use of substances can also perpetuate further trauma, as a person may become numb to the abuse they are facing, may place themselves in dangerous situations in order to obtain the substance, or may not have the awareness of how to protect themselves.

At WTLC, we understand the delicate relationship between trauma and substance misuse.   We don’t judge it, rather we aim to explore the dynamic and help build new coping skills to increase resiliency and healing. Through therapeutic interventions such as individual counseling, trauma narratives, group therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), we work to unpack the unsettling experiences faced by our participants.  The goal is to get to the root of the need for substances.  Interventions such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy to enlist new coping skills, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to break down long-standing negative thought patterns, and engagement in 12-step programs help individuals obtain sobriety and recovery from substance misuse. A holistic approach to treatment for trauma and substance misuse can also include positive changes to daily life such as exercise, adequate sleep, meditation, eating healthfully and engaging with a support network.  There is hope for life after trauma and substance misuse.

If you would like to discuss individual or group support for substance misuse or impulse control, please contact WTLC’s Clinical Department by calling (877) 531-5522 or email love@wtlc.org.

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