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Importance of Trauma Informed Care in Addiction Treatment

Trauma informed care focuses on patient-centered holistic treatment. Trauma informed approaches are proven effective substance use treatment. 

What is Trauma-Informed Care?

The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster.” Depending on the person and the event’s severity, the emotional effects of trauma may persist well beyond the initial shock and denial that occur in the immediate hours and days after the event. This is why it is so important to consider trauma informed care when pursuing recovery.1
Trauma informed care

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What Causes Trauma?

The causes of trauma vary. Remember that something triggering a trauma response for one person may not do so for someone else. Trauma is caused by an overwhelming event that affects emotional and mental health. Sources of trauma can be violent, physical, or psychological.
Some common causes of trauma include:
  • Domestic violence
  • Severe injury or illness
  • The death of a loved one
  • Natural disasters
  • Acts of terrorism
  • Violent crime
  • Abuse
  • Witnessing an act of violence
  • Learning about a traumatic event that affected or harmed a loved one

Trauma Informed Care Approach

A trauma informed care approach is a holistic approach to treatment. It is a patient-centered treatment model that helps manage trauma. It is also teaches vital relapse prevention tools.2
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Center for Preparedness and Response lists six primary trauma informed care principles.3
  • Safety
  • Transparency and trustworthiness
  • Collaboration and mutuality
  • Peer support
  • Choice and empowerment
  • Acknowledgment of cultural, gender, and historical issues

Signs and Symptoms of Trauma

The signs and symptoms of trauma can look different from person to person. Trauma experiences impact everyone differently. So, it can be hard to point out specific symptoms resulting from trauma.  
Examples of trauma may include physical signs such as shaking, difficulties with sleep, body aches, hypervigilance, and appetite changes. Or emotional signs like anger, anxiety, fear, and panic. Behavioral changes are also common, including isolation and new or worsening substance abuse.

Trauma-Informed Care in Addiction Treatment

Trauma and substance use disorder co-occur with notable frequency. Statistics show that people of all ages with diagnosed trauma (including trauma responses and post-traumatic stress disorder) are five times more likely to need support overcoming a substance use disorder. Studies indicate that up to 50% of people with a trauma diagnosis also have a co-occurring substance use disorder (SUD).4

Correlation Between Trauma And Substance Use Disorder

The connection between substance use disorders and trauma relates to using substances to dull emotions and memories of trauma. This practice, also called self-medicating, helps block unwanted or painful feelings.
Unfortunately, with time, it takes higher and more frequent doses of drugs or alcohol to achieve the desired effect. This pattern of increasing and continued use can lead to addiction.

Importance of Trauma Informed Care in Addiction Treatment

Today, providers better understand the connection between trauma and the potential for life-long mental, physical, and behavioral health problems.  Trauma informed care helps patients explore past trauma in a safe, supported way.
These approaches improve engagement and adherence to the treatment process. Following a trauma informed care model improves health outcomes and treatment effectiveness.5

Trauma Informed Approaches to Addiction Treatment

Trauma informed care approaches in addiction treatment are often experiential therapies. Experiential therapies allow (and encourage) trauma survivors to access and examine their emotions. Trauma informed treatment models are holistic. 

They involve the body, mind, and spirit throughout treatment sessions. Examples of trauma informed care approaches used in addiction treatment programs include:


Psychodrama uses theater and role-playing to help patients achieve their treatment goals. Depending on your needs, this trauma informed care approach may involve acting out your trauma or interacting with a larger group.

Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR involves visualizing your trauma. During a session, your provider provides direction through different eye movements. EMDR can reduce negative and painful emotions that promote trauma and may lead to addiction. 

Breathwork Therapy

Breathwork is a trauma informed care model that uses breathing patterns to trigger changes in the body. Breathwork uses deep breathing and other relaxation tools to calm anxiety and panic.


Brainspotting is another trauma informed care approach. It encourages patients to tap into the “spots” in their brain where trauma resides. With a trained therapy provider, they recount the traumatic event in detail. Painful memories and emotions can be released, allowing healing to begin.

Treating SUD and Trauma at The Same Time

The symptoms of substance use disorders (SUD) and trauma are highly intertwined. In many instances, trauma is at the root of addiction. When someone has both a SUD and a trauma diagnosis, it is called a dual-diagnosis or co-occurring disorder.6

The most effective trauma informed care programs treat trauma and SUDs as part of one comprehensive program. Below are a few trauma informed care models used in dual diagnosis treatment facilities.

Exposure Treatment

Prolonged exposure treatment is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It is a proven, safe, and effective option for trauma. Exposure therapy involves visualizing your past trauma in a supported, controlled environment.

With ongoing sessions, visualization evolves into replicating trauma triggers. Exposure therapy allows patients to examine and review their trauma safely.

Non-Exposure Treatment

Non-exposure therapies are trauma informed care models that are not an exposure treatment. Non-exposure therapies are used when exposure therapies may risk progress or if exposure therapies are unsuccessful. Non-exposure therapy is considered as effective as exposure therapy.

Pharmacological Treatment

Currently, there is no single medication that addresses symptoms of both SUD and trauma. In some instances, anti-anxiety medications may be integrated into a treatment program to reduce the impact of certain symptoms early in the treatment process. 

Focus On Empowerment

Empowerment is a vital component of achieving recovery. Trauma and living with SUD symptoms can impact one’s sense of self-worth. Reversing these thought patterns is a crucial element in preventing relapse. 
Trauma informed care

How Does Trauma Informed Care Help You in Recovery?

The connection between trauma and substance use reinforces the importance of trauma informed care in recovery. Trauma informed models recognizing how underlying factors (traumatic events) may cause addiction. Trauma informed therapies allow patients to explore trauma in a safe, supported environment. Understanding trauma is one of the first steps toward healing and recovery.

Reach out to Ripple Ranch Recovery to Experience Trauma Informed Care

Our providers at Ripple Ranch near Austin, Texas, use trauma informed care to provide holistic, patient-centered treatment options. Our programs are designed around your unique needs and goals. Our programs meet you where you are in the treatment process.

Contact Us Today to Begin Healing

Contact us at Ripple Ranch today to learn more about how trauma informed care can help you overcome co-occurring trauma and substance use. You or your loved one can reach out via our website or call us at 830.494.4717