Trauma Treatment

Trauma therapy is a form of therapy that can help you deal with the emotional response caused by a traumatic event.


Many people who are living with substance use disorder (also known as addiction) are also living with trauma, and can benefit from either treatment for both trauma and substance use disorder, or from trauma-informed treatment for substance use disorder.

Many people find that they turn to drugs and/or alcohol following a traumatic event. This is understandable, as mental, emotional, and physical trauma can cause symptoms that make it hard to cope with the stress of day-to-day life. For many, alcohol and/or drugs provide a temporary albeit effective type of relief that can quickly become addictive.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, Fifth Edition (the American Psychiatric Association's diagnosis guide) discusses ten categories of substances that can lead to substance use disorder, including alcohol, caffeine, cannabis, hallucinogens, inhalants,  opioids, sedatives/hypnotics/anxiolytics, stimulants, tobacco, and other substances.

Using a substance isn't necessarily enough to qualify someone as living with substance use disorder. In order to qualify for a diagnosis of substance use disorder, a person must exhibit certain behaviors, which may include:

  • Using substances time and again despite putting oneself in danger
  • Needing more and more of the substance to get the same effect
  • Withdrawal symptoms that go away upon using
  • Using despite it causing problems in relationships
  • Giving up activities (recreational, occupational, social) due to substance use
  • Cravings to use the substance
  • Failure to manage responsibilities at work, school, or home due to substance use
  • Wanting to cut down on substance use, but not being able to despite a high level of effort

If you or a loved one are suffering from substance use problems following a traumatic event, you're not alone. Thankfully, trauma treatment can help you begin to get your life back, one healthy choice at a time.

What is Trauma Treatment?

Trauma is an event that a person experiences as abusive, frightening, dangerous, or life-threatening. A person does not have to be a survivor of a traumatic event to experience trauma, people who witness traumatic events can also be traumatized. Some people do not experience lasting effects after experiencing trauma, while others go on to have lasting symptoms caused by the event(s).

Trauma can have a serious effect on the body and mind, creating mental, physical, and emotional symptoms that can be tough to overcome. Trauma treatment can help people who have experienced trauma to do the hard work of unpacking the effect the trauma has had on their lives.

Some people who have experienced trauma develop post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. PTSD is a group of symptoms (such as flashbacks, nightmares, and a sense of hypervigilence) that interfere with day-to-day functioning. Some people who experience trauma develop symptoms that are not congruent with a PTSD diagnosis, but are debilitating nevertheless.

Inpatient trauma treatment (also known as residential trauma treatment) welcomes patients to a live-in facility that offers around-the-clock care, helping patients to fully immerse themselves in the process of getting well. An inpatient treatment facility may be a PTSD rehab program, a treatment center for PTSD only, or a center with the capability of treating trauma while also treating addiction. This type of treatment can be especially helpful for people who are living with both trauma and substance use disorder, as it ensures that they'll always have the help of trained professionals in the event that they experience a trigger or craving while they're in treatment.

When a patient enters residential treatment, they'll work closely with a treatment team who will help them develop goals as they work through their trauma and the reasons behind their substance use disorder. While goals differ from patient to patient, many patients have goals including improved stress management, improved communication skills, development of new habits to take the place of using substances, improved family relationships, and more.

Treating Trauma: Best Practices

If you or a loved one are working to overcome trauma or PTSD, it's important that you work with a therapist or treatment team that practices trauma treatment or trauma-informed care. Professionals who understand trauma can work with you or your loved one to safely and effectively work through past trauma, helping to develop healthier coping strategies over time.

There is no one right therapy plan for everyone who has experienced trauma. Each person's experience with trauma is highly individual, and it's important to work closely with a therapist to determine how you or your loved one's treatment is progressing over time.

One type of common therapy for trauma survivors is known as prolonged exposure, or PE. In this type of therapy, a therapist works closely with a client to gradually expose them to memories and feelings associated with the trauma. With the guidance of a trained therapist, clients can learn that they do not have to be afraid of their trauma, as it can no longer hurt them. Most people who go through prolonged exposure therapy receive treatment weekly for about four months.

Another type of therapy that's shown promise among trauma patients is cognitive processing therapy, or CPT. This therapy involves a therapist helping a client change their mindset around a traumatic event. This type of treatment is highly recommended for people who have been diagnosed with PTSD. CPT allows patients to change their view of their trauma so that it has less of an effect on their day to day lives.

Eye movement desensitization and and reprocessing, or EMDR, was originally developed to treat patients who were suffering from PTSD. Today, this type of therapy can be used by anyone who has been through trauma and wants to do the work required for the brain to lessen the severity of triggers and other symptoms associated with trauma.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is often used both for people who have been through trauma and people who are living with substance use disorder. This type of therapy helps clients identify the thoughts behind problematic behaviors, and then change those thoughts to result in a desired outcome.

Trauma Treatment: What You Need To Know

There are several factors you'll want to consider when deciding whether seeking treatment for trauma and substance use disorder is the right fit for your needs:

  • Duration: Different types of therapy require different durations of treatment. That being said, most inpatient addiction programs are 30, 60, or 90 days. If you need trauma treatment alongside your treatment for substance use disorder, your treatment team will work with you to figure out a way that your therapies can complement one another.
  • What to Expect: Your therapist will walk you through what to expect from your treatment. Before therapy begins, your therapist will ensure that you feel safe and comfortable with getting addiction help, and you won't have to share anything before you're ready. If you have concerns about your treatment or your progress, be sure to bring them up to your therapist. The goal is to help you get well, and it's important that you're an active participant in your treatment plan.
  • Types of Patients: Many different types of patients seek help with trauma through therapy. People who have trauma deal with the symptoms of the event in many different ways. Some people are looking for PTSD inpatient treatment, while others are simply looking for trauma informed treatment in an inpatient setting. Some people turn to drugs and alcohol, while others struggle with eating disorders, relationships, depression, and more. There's nothing to be ashamed about–dealing with trauma is hard, and therapy will help you develop the coping mechanisms you need to get well.
  • Individual and Group Settings: Most trauma therapies offer both individual and group therapy sessions (this is also true of any PTSD recovery program). Individual therapy allows you to unpack your trauma one-on-one with a therapist, while group therapy allows you to begin the process of developing healthy coping mechanisms by hearing what's worked (and hasn't worked) for others. Group therapy sessions are facilitated by a trained therapist, ensuring a positive and constructive environment for all participants.