Trauma-Informed Therapy For Drug And Alcohol Addiction

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on March 17, 2023

Trauma-informed therapy is a type of therapy that emphasizes how trauma affects a person’s life. This type of therapy may benefit people with drug and alcohol addiction.

Trauma-Informed Addiction Therapy

People who experience trauma often have residual psychological effects for years after. Sometimes, a person may use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism for trauma.

Trauma-informed therapy recognizes the role of trauma in how a person lives their life.

During this type of addiction therapy, a therapist will try to establish a sense of safety to discuss the traumatic event in a compassionate and non-judgmental way.

If you or a loved one are abusing drugs or alcohol and have a history of trauma, trauma-informed therapy may help get to the root cause of addiction and put you on the path to recovery.

Types Of Trauma That May Be Linked To Addiction

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) defines trauma as an exposure to actual or threatened events involving death, serious injury, or sexual violation.

Traumatic experiences may include:

  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • natural disasters
  • adverse childhood experiences
  • physical or emotional neglect
  • exposure to mental illness from a family member or caretaker
  • witnessing extreme violence
  • exposure to domestic violence and substance abuse
  • the death of a loved one

In essence, trauma is a negative emotional response to an awful event. Trauma has been linked to an increased risk of mental and physical health issues, including substance abuse.

Common Symptoms Of Trauma

People who have experienced trauma may have strong emotional and physical reactions for years following the traumatic event.

Symptoms of trauma may include:

  • intrusive thoughts about the event
  • disorientation
  • confusion
  • social isolation and withdrawal
  • insomnia
  • overwhelming fear
  • irritability
  • panic attacks
  • desire to self-medicate
  • acute stress disorder (ASD)
  • sexual dysfunction
  • fatigue and exhaustion

The duration and severity of psychological trauma symptoms will depend on the nature of the traumatic event, availability of emotional support, personality type, and more.

Types Of Trauma-Informed Therapy

Trauma-focused therapy is typically tailored to the specific needs of the client, and explores a person’s history, triggers, and more.

The treatment modalities listed below can be applied to address the negative effects of trauma in a person’s life.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) has been proven to be effective with people who experience intense emotions and difficulty regulating their moods.

Over time, DBT has been shown to be an effective way to combat the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related mental health conditions.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Trauma-informed CBT was originally geared toward children who had experienced sexual abuse. It has since been applied to adolescents and adults with a history of physical or mental abuse.

CBT helps a person address the negative effects of trauma including processing traumatic memories, overcoming problematic thoughts or behavior, and learning how to cope effectively.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an evidence-based treatment for PTSD that works by having the client focus their eyes on back-and-forth movement or sound while remembering an upsetting memory.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy helps clients break patterns of avoidance and learn coping skills by creating a safe environment where they can face what they fear.


Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, allows the client an opportunity to speak about their trauma and work through the healing process with a mental health professional.

The clinician and client usually form a bond of trustworthiness that allows the client to feel comfortable sharing their experiences.

Group Therapy

Group therapy allows clients to share their stories in a supportive and safe environment alongside peers with similar experiences.

Trauma-Informed Therapy And Substance Abuse Treatment

Trauma survivors who don’t have access to adequate behavioral health services may turn to using drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Over time, this circumstance may develop into a co-occurring disorder. People with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders (SUD) may benefit from an evidence-based treatment program.

While trauma-informed therapy is often an integral part of the addiction recovery process, other treatment services are also recommended to help put clients on the path to sobriety.

Treatment centers that address trauma and substance abuse may offer:

  • medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid drug addiction
  • medically monitored detoxification
  • peer support groups
  • treatment for adjustment disorder (AD) in adolescents
  • dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders
  • holistic treatment services
  • counseling with family members
  • group therapy for drug and alcohol abuse
  • CBT
  • DBT
  • aftercare services

FAQs For Trauma-Informed Therapy

Below you will find some of the most commonly asked questions about trauma-informed therapy.

Other types of therapy for substance abuse include motivational interviewing, contingency management, family therapy, and 12-step programs.

There is no cure for addiction, but a treatment program with trauma therapy will teach you coping skills and other ways to avoid using substances.

Yes, veterans with substance use disorders may benefit greatly from a treatment approach that includes trauma-informed therapy.

Find Substance Use Disorder Treatment Today

For more information about trauma-informed therapy and substance use treatment providers in your area, call our helpline today. Our team can assist you in your journey to addiction recovery.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on March 17, 2023


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