Substance abuse often occurs because a person has experienced some type of psychological trauma. The individual is trying to soothe his or her inner pain, but is doing so in a way that is very unhealthy. Once people become sober, it is vital that they are able to deal with their underlying psychological trauma or they will be at high risk of relapse – at the very least, they will not be able to find happiness in recovery until the underlying trauma is dealt with.
Dangers of Psychological Trauma for Those in Recovery
- Developing emotional barriers that cut them off from the rest of the world
- making it much harder for these individuals to develop meaningful relationship
- leading to chronic anxiety
- leading to depression – if individuals experience depression once due to some type of traumatic event, they are more likely to experience depression in the future, even if there is no further trauma (it can just be triggered by low mood)
- people who haven’t dealt with psychological trauma are going to be drawn towards new maladaptive behaviours in recovery (for example, comfort eating or workaholism)
- failure to deal with it puts the person at high risk of relapse
- preventing people from getting the most out of their recovery
- preventing spiritual growth.
Psychological Trauma Explained
Psychological trauma occurs when a person is faced with a situation that is so overwhelming that he or she feels unable to coop with it. This frightening situation leads to a situation in which the person feels helpless and hopeless, leaving a psychological scar. Individuals who experience this type of trauma will experience the world in a different way following the event; they see it as a far more threatening place and develop strategies to help protect themselves in this new reality.
Two people can experience the exact same event but only one of them may end up developing psychological trauma. This is because individuals differ in their ability to cope with the things that happen to them. It is not so much the event that causes the person to develop psychological trauma but how they perceive what has happened. Those individuals who experienced trauma in childhood, or who have low self-esteem are more likely to develop psychological trauma in response to challenging experiences. An event is also more likely to be perceived as traumatic if it happens unexpectedly, involves some type of cruelty, was unavoidable, and the person was not prepared to cope with it.
How to Cope with Psychological Trauma in Recovery
A significant proportion of people entering recovery will have been using alcohol or drugs as their coping mechanism in order to deal with psychological trauma. This means that when they become sober, they are still going to have this inner pain to deal with but will not have an effective tool for doing so. The temptation will be to just cover the trauma over with new maladaptive behaviours; however, in order to experience real freedom, the individual has to be able to get to the root of the problem.
One of the compelling reasons for choosing rehab in order to recover from addiction is that it gives the person the space to deal with their inner demons with the help of a therapist. This work can help the person face their wounds and start the process of real healing. This means that in future, the individual will no longer have any need to act out in an attempt to deal with their pain. Approaches such as cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness can be very effective when it comes to dealing with psychological trauma.