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Substance Abuse and Trauma - A Short Story

It is a fact that those who engage in substance abuse have had traumatic experiences in the past. Three out of four women who deal with substance abuse have experience rape before. About 60% of young adults undergoing substance abuse therapy were in circumstances or traumatic events.

Substance abuse is the overuse of drugs or alcohol. Trauma is an uncomfortable experience that causes pain, fear, guilt, or shame. Traumatic victims use drugs to help ease the feeling that springs up when they experience a trauma trigger.

My colleagues and I were interning at a hospital when a girl was brought in for drug abuse. She had overdosed on a harmful substance and was about to die before she was brought in. She was revived, and when the male doctor wanted to check her, she shivered and screamed. The lady didn’t want to be attended by a male doctor, so a female doctor attended to her, and our supervisor, who is a mental health psychologist, did a therapy session with her to find out more information about herself and why she had overdosed.

She didn’t speak until the third day. She said her stepfather has been abusing her since he got married to her mother for over two years. Her mother travels a lot and leaves the girl with her stepfather. He introduced her to drugs because, according to him, they would make her not feel pain or guilt about what he was doing to her.

She was brought in by a good Samaritan who saw her lifeless by the roadside. On the day she was brought in, she confronted the stepfather and told him she was going to tell her mother if he did not stop. So, he put some substance into her food and raped her till she became numb. He thought she was dead, so he dropped her by the roadside.

This young lady also confessed that she had been taking some of the substances she was introduced to during school hours to help her concentrate.

Well, the mother was contacted privately and was told about her daughter’s ordeal. The mother divorced the father and testified against him in court. He's still in jail, serving his sentence. The young lady had to undergo a series of trauma and substance abuse therapies.

How Addiction to Substances Is Linked to Trauma

Treatment for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and drug abuse issues is used by professional mental health practitioners to control adverse effects. The reason, as earlier mentioned, why drugs and alcohol are consumed by trauma victims is because they numb the feeling that comes with traumatic experiences when they remember them.

In the case of post-traumatic stress disorder, people can smoke marijuana and drink lots of alcohol to get high and forget flashbacks of the traumatic event, the feeling of guilt for indulging in substance abuse, or fear.

Whatever the reason for the abuse of substances, it can only last for a while. The highness or pleasure feeling wears off, and reality begins to sink gradually. So instead of facing reality, they go for more of the substance that numbs them or even higher substances.

Furthermore, the continuous use of these substances causes more mental issues, which will make it difficult for the victim to heal from the traumatic experience that caused the use of drugs.

A good treatment plan will go a long way toward helping traumatized substance abuse victims. This treatment plan should be done by a professional and must be flexible to accommodate techniques that can control both trauma and substance abuse.

Treatment For Traumatic Substance Abuse Victims

Professionals trained in techniques like hypnotic therapy, prolonged exposure therapy, etc. are to address victims of trauma and substance abuse. Talk therapy at the initial stage will not be effective, as when it comes to substance abuse, there will have to be a stronger method to keep the victim calm for any therapy session.

To be able to control the effect of substance abuse on traumatic victims, mental health practitioners will have to combine substance abuse treatment options with trauma treatment options after that they can recommend to the victims to go for group counseling therapy for further support.

Here is a table representing treatment options for substance abuse and trauma.

Substance Abuse


Detoxification: it simply means stopping the intake of the substance. This is a very difficult process, and substance abuse or overdose patients stop the process when they start. Only a very few can go through this process.

EMDR: Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing helps trauma victims remember the cause of their trauma.

Medication-assisted treatment: this procedure includes the use of medication that gives almost the same feeling as the substance used. For example, the use of naltrexone for alcohol.

Hypnotherapy: This helps trauma victims adhere to the recommendations said by the mental health professional.

CBT: cognitive behavioral therapy like Assertive Community Treatment (ACT), which is a community-based treatment plan based on the victims’ abilities.

Prolonged exposure therapy: this will help the trauma victims confront their past and face their fears.

There are other types of treatment options for both victims of substance abuse and trauma. But these are the common ones. Note that a combination of two or three treatment options can be used to address the drug abuse aspect, and the same goes for the aspect of trauma.

Also, mental health therapists combine treatment plans for substance abuse and trauma to help their patients. Therapists need to be versatile in their knowledge of different treatment options so that they can administer the right treatment option for the right traumatic substance abuse victims’ challenges.

Victims with experiences of trauma and substance abuse are also human beings, but with support, care, and love, they can manage their challenges. Also, not all trauma victims go into substance abuse. Some develop chronic mental health conditions like depression or dissociative disorder. The reason why some trauma victims go into drugs or alcohol is that they are trying to suppress the feelings that come with trauma triggers.

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