Experiencing an emotional or psychological trauma is one of the most common factors that can lead an individual to use drugs or alcohol.
Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to one’s safety that leaves an individual feeling overwhelmed, even if the trauma is not physical in nature. Emotional and psychological trauma is subjective, and there is no objective way to determine the impact it has had on an individual. It may leave one feeling disconnected, unable to trust others, vulnerable, or numb. Whether the event happened once years ago, if it happened repeatedly over a period of time, or if it happened in recent history, the impact of the event can put individuals at risk for substance abuse as a method of coping with the stress.
Trauma can be caused by a single event such as a car accident, an attack, or a natural disaster. In some cases, it can even be caused by frequently overlooked traumas such as a significant break-up, an injury, the sudden loss of a loved one, or a humiliating experience. Individuals may at first appear to be less affected by an event, but over time, it can begin to take its toll. Not all traumatic experiences lead to long-lasting psychological damage that requires therapeutic intervention; however, individuals who are already subjected to stress, have undergone a series of negative experiences, or those who have experienced trauma as a child are more vulnerable to the effects of a traumatic event.
Those who are emotionally or psychologically impacted by trauma may exhibit symptoms including anxiety or depression, nightmares or flashbacks, trouble functioning at work or school, and using drugs or alcohol as a method of coping with stress. For those struggling with trauma, it is important to engage with a trauma specialist who can help an individual work through recovery. Overcoming trauma can be painful or scary and can potentially lead to re-traumatization, making it especially important to enlist the help of a professional.
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About Trauma Therapy
In order to address trauma, individuals must face and resolve feelings and memories associated with the event. This process involves a number of steps, including learning to regulate strong emotions, rebuilding the ability to trust others, processing memories and feelings associated with the trauma, and discharging negative energy associated with the trauma. Trauma can send the body’s nervous system into overdrive and destroy an individual’s sense of security. Therapy designed to address trauma works to reestablish an individual’s physical feeling of safety using a variety of methods. Trauma therapists may use:
- Somatic Experiencing (SE): This form of therapy focuses on the body’s ability to heal itself. Rather than focusing on the thoughts and memories associated with trauma, individual’s focus on their body’s reaction to it. This allows the individual to connect with the energy and tension they are experiencing, allowing physical release such as crying, shaking, and other reactions. Pent-up energy and tension can be released which allows the individual to process their responses in a more natural way.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This form of therapy lets individuals to process their thoughts and feelings related to the trauma. While this does not treat the physiological effects of trauma, it works well in conjunction with somatic experiencing to provide an all-inclusive approach.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): This form of therapy is often used in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy and uses rhythmic left-right stimulation to “unfreeze” memories, allowing them to be resolved. This is most frequently involves eye movements.
Following a traumatic experience, an individual may naturally withdraw from others, making their experience worse. Continuing to engage with others and participate in social activities—even if an individual is not in the mood—can help them cope. It is important to continue to engage in activities not related to the trauma and to maintain relationships that help the healing process. Most importantly, maintaining these relationships allows an individual to ask for help. Talking about your feelings with someone you trust can help. Support groups for trauma survivors are an effective method of reducing feelings of isolation. By surrounding yourself with others who share similar experiences, it can provide an additional layer of support during the healing process.