Is Trauma Work Needed in Residential Addiction Care?

By Don Lavender-Program Director at Camino Recovery Centre

Leaders in the field of addiction treatment have noted that relapse is an issue which overshadows the industry.  Over the last fifty year’s experience has shown that a leading cause of relapse is stress and one of the leading causes of stress is unaddressed or unresolved trauma.

After I´d worked in the treatment industry for about a decade I began to anecdotally see that trauma work seemed to be of value at lessening recidivism among patients.

Most people can stop using with a bit of help.  Staying stopped is the difficult part. However it can be achieved  with a great deal of help from others who´ve been there.  A good example where support groups work is Alcoholics Anonymous.  About half the people that give AA a try do relatively well.  About half do not do well.  The half that does not do well sometimes needs a bit more help. Finding the main issue(s) that prevents someone from staying stopped can be difficult. We need help to identify those road blocks to recovery.

Not everyone has to be a combat veteran suffering Post Traumatic Stress.  Trauma can be categorised as lower case ¨t¨ traumas and these can add up over time. We often repeatedly re-traumatise ourselves each time we relapse, each time we use.

Trial and error has helped discover what is effective in trauma work today. Mis-directed talk therapy (top down) can often prompt patients to relive/re-enact their traumas in an attempt to move beyond them. ¨Bottom Up¨ therapy has been the effective choice over the last twenty plus years. Talk therapy (top down) of our traumas or abuse history can inadvertently became the base that fuels re-traumatisation.

The late 1980´s introduced some effective ¨bottom up¨ therapies which brought with them healing from trauma.  Ground-breaking work from Francine Shapiro called Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR which is technically bilateral stimulation) became the most practiced and effective trauma resolution work of the late 1980´s early 1990’s.  No sooner did EMDR appear on the horizon, Somatic Experiencing, developed by Peter Levine gained in popularity.  EMDR prompts housed traumas in the limbic system of the brain to reposition in the neo cortex (outer part of the brain), thus lessening the emotional charge related to the trauma itself.  Somatic experiencing allows the trauma survivor to reboot their autonomic nervous system.  The ‘mis-aligned’ central nervous system/autonomic nervous system is believed to be the source that perpetuates trauma(s) which creates a myriad of ills both physiologically and psychologically.

Treatment centres in-the-know have used these evidence-based techniques over the last few decades to help sort not only addictions, but chronic relapse as well as traumas in general.

The theoretical origins of addiction are many despite it basically being understood as a genetic predisposition.  Many can put their addictive behaviours in perspective, but those who need more help due to chronic relapse can often benefit from trauma resolution work.



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