Aug 02

Trauma and Substance Abuse

Trauma and Substance Abuse

Some people increase their use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs to cope with how they are feeling after experiencing trauma. This is often called ‘self-medication.’ While this often gives some short-term relief, unfortunately, in the long run it can make things worse. Alcohol, tobacco and other drug use can interfere with the brain’s natural processing of the trauma and substance abuse patterns can then take root.

People often say that when they reduce or stop drinking, smoking or using, their trauma reactions become more frequent or intense. This is the body‘s way of saying that the trauma is unfinished business that needs to be dealt with. Some people find that they develop alcohol, tobacco or other drug problems because they need to drink or use greater amounts more frequently to keep the trauma reactions at bay. This can lead to a cycle where reactions to trauma and alcohol, tobacco or other drug use feed off each other.

Trauma is an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury or threat to one’s physical safety. Trauma also refers to directly experienced, witnessed or learned about events. So, even if the traumatic event didn’t happen to you, if you heard about a traumatic event that affected someone else, especially someone close to you, you could still feel traumatized.

Traumatic Events Experienced Directly

• Military combat

• Natural or manmade disaster

• Being kidnapped

• Being taken hostage

• Terrorist attack

• Torture

• Concentration camp internee

• Severe auto accidents

• Violent personal assault such as sexual or physical (i.e. mugging), or psychological (i.e. robbery)

• Life threatening illness

• Prisoner of War

Traumatic Events Witnessed

• Violent assault

• Accident

• War

• Disaster

• Unexpected witnessing a dead body or remains

Traumatic Events Experienced or Learned About (Family Member or Close Friend)

• Violent personal assault

• Serious accident

• Serious injury experienced

• Sudden, unexpected death

• Your child has a life-threatening disease

Trauma and Substance Abuse: Why It Is Counter-Productive to Self-Medicate

Using drugs to deal with trauma only provides temporary relief, if any at all; and in fact makes things worse. Rather than calming nerves, alcohol and other drugs can actually increase both anxiety and fears, intensify and exaggerate emotions and long term use can even cause emotional stagnation. Substance abuse to treat trauma often blocks necessary psychological processing and can prevent or delay the natural completion of the grieving process. Drug use often results in a lower functioning capacity resulting in poor choices and poor decisions and even behavioral dysfunction. Substance abuse can disrupt sleep, especially stage four (or deep sleep), and it can increase nightmares and make them more vivid and believable, leading to an even more fragile mental state.

Trauma and Substance Abuse Treatment

The fact that there is a connection between trauma and substance abuse has been known for decades by professionals treating people who experience both trauma and substance abuse.

Clinical studies of patients in substance abuse treatment programs have shown a high correlation with a client history of trauma. Model programs are being developed that seek to treat these both trauma and substance abuse in an integrated fashion.



Mar 25

5 steps to de-stressing your day

5 Steps to De-stressing Your Day

5 steps to de-stressing your day

Chronic stress is hell on the body. Some studies even suggest that chronic stress can be more detrimental to your health than smoking. It causes your body to release cortisol, which is a natural steroid hormone. High levels of cortisol over a long period of time have been shown to negatively impact your immune system, causing insomnia, hormone imbalances, and many other negative reactions.  Here are 5 steps to de-stressing your day:

5 steps to de-stressing your day: Start the day with meditation

Meditation is a great way to calm the swirling thoughts in your mind. Sit on a cushion or on a chair. Get comfortable- sitting with a straight spine and your chin tucked in. Remove any distractions (especially your phone!) Sit quietly and concentrate on your breathing. Try starting with clearing your mind for 30 breaths. Focus your energy on a single point in your body and listen to your breaths. Slowly increase the time as your meditation practice improves.

5 steps to de-stressing your day: Laugh

Don’t take life so seriously. Take time to watch a funny movie or read a humorous column. Laughter is one of the best ways to distress your day. It releases endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals.

5 steps to de-stressing your day: Take a walk

If your reaching that time in your day when you just want to pull your hair out, sometimes it’s good to just get outside and away from the people and tasks that are causing you stress. Take a walk, get some sun, and get in touch with nature. Try to really notice what is going on around you and stay in the present moment.  It can be very healing to connect with nature.

5 steps to de-stressing your day: Get more sleep

One of the most common causes of becoming overstressed is lack of proper sleep. Stress causes insomnia, and lack of sleep worsens feelings of stress. It can become a vicious cycle. Getting a good night’s sleep can improve your mood, give you energy, and contribute to your overall feeling of well-being. The first step to a good night’s sleep: cultivate a relaxing atmosphere. You don’t sleep as well when you fall asleep in front of a TV or you are surrounded by clutter. Make your room an oasis and work on clearing your mind every night before you go to bed. Try to get at least 6-8 hours every night.

5 steps to de-stressing your day: Exercise

Exercise is so beneficial in so many ways. It is especially effective in de-stressing your day. Exercise, like laughter, releases endorphins, clears the mind, and helps you sleep better. It is also a great way to improve overall health and well-being.  One of the best forms of exercise for de-stressing your day is yoga. Yoga encompasses the body and the breath so it’s not only a great form of exercise, but it incorporates meditation to slow down and calm the body and the mind.