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What is Trauma-Informed Care and Why is it Important in Addiction Treatment?

Stress is part of the human experience. Most people experience stress throughout the day. We may get stuck in traffic, miss a deadline, or have a tense interaction with another person. In most cases, minor stresses resolve quickly as time passes, and we use strategies to cope.

But sometimes, stressful or terrifying citations can exceed a person’s ability to cope and may leave a lasting imprint on their lives. A life-threatening situation or other highly stressful event may have lasting symptoms known as trauma.

Trauma can impact a person’s life in many ways, sometimes preventing them from functioning in their daily lives. It can also make people more likely to use drugs and alcohol. People living with trauma and addiction must receive compassionate, holistic care for both conditions so that they can heal and move forward.

Trauma-informed care is essential during addiction treatment. Practitioners must understand the effects of trauma and utilize specialized therapies and treatment to address it while treating substance abuse.

This article will explore the importance of trauma-informed care in addiction treatment and how to find the help you need. Reach out to the team at the Mandala Healing Center to learn more about our trauma-informed addiction treatment programs or to schedule an intake assessment.

The Link Between Trauma and Addiction

Trauma can develop after a person experiences an event that involves serious injury, death, assault, or other potentially life-threatening situations. Some examples of traumatic events include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse or assault
  • Living through a natural disaster
  • Adverse childhood experiences
  • Physical or emotional abuse or neglect
  • Witnessing an act of extreme violence
  • The death of a loved one
  • Exposure to a parent or family member’s mental illness
  • Witnessing domestic violence or substance abuse

Trauma is a negative emotional response that follows a terrifying or highly stressful event. People with untreated trauma may feel overwhelmed and turn to drugs or alcohol for temporary relief from their symptoms, which is known as “self-medication.”

Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol can lead to more significant problems, including dependence and addiction. The effects of drugs and alcohol may also worsen the symptoms of trauma, creating a cycle of addiction.

Symptoms of Trauma

Each person has their own experiences and symptoms of trauma, and the way trauma presents can change over time. Some of the most common symptoms of trauma include:

  • Intrusive thoughts about the event
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Isolation or withdrawal
  • Insomnia or other sleep disturbances
  • Intense fear and anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Panic attacks
  • Acute stress disorder (ASD)
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Exhaustion and fatigue

Some people develop symptoms of trauma immediately after the event, but it’s common for symptoms to show up weeks, months, or even years afterward. The intensity and presentation of trauma symptoms can change over time.

The duration and intensity of a person’s trauma symptoms depends in part on:

  • The kind of event that caused trauma
  • Their emotional support
  • Personality type

These and other factors can impact how a person experiences trauma. Receiving trauma-informed care and therapy can help people recover from trauma and learn new skills to cope with symptoms healthily.

What is Trauma-Informed Care?

Trauma-informed care is an approach used in various fields, such as healthcare, social work, education, psychology, and even addiction treatment programs that acknowledges the prevalence and impact of trauma on individuals and their lives. It involves understanding how trauma affects a person’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being and integrating this understanding into practices that provide a supportive environment for individuals who have experienced trauma.

Key principles of trauma-informed care include:

  • Safety – In trauma-informed care, prioritizing physical and emotional safety for individuals and creating an environment where they feel secure is crucial.
  • Trustworthiness and transparency – Therapists aim to build trust with clients by being transparent, consistent, and reliable in interactions and communications.
  • Peer support and collaboration – Encouraging collaboration and mutual support among individuals to promote a sense of community and empowerment is an essential aspect of treatment.
  • Empowerment, voice, and choice – This approach aims to recognize and respect the autonomy of clients by involving them in decision-making processes and respecting their choices.
  • Cultural, historical, and gender considerations – Therapists must be aware of cultural, historical, and gender-related factors that might impact how their clients experience and respond to trauma.
  • Resilience and strengths-based approach – Focusing on the strengths and resilience of individuals rather than just their vulnerabilities and weaknesses is a primary goal.

Trauma-informed care aims to avoid re-traumatization and revictimization by being sensitive to the needs and experiences of individuals who have faced trauma. It addresses trauma in a supportive and compassionate manner.

Therapeutic Approaches Used in Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma-informed care uses evidence-based therapies to explore a person’s history and understand their triggers. Practitioners who provide trauma-informed care understand the effects of trauma and work in sensitive ways to provide compassionate, effective treatments.

Here is a brief overview of several therapeutic approaches used in trauma-informed care.

Dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT)

Dialectical-behavioral therapy can help people regulate their moods, even when experiencing intense trauma symptoms. It is commonly used in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

One of the goals of CBT is to help people recognize and alter destructive thoughts, and to develop healthy coping skills. Trauma-informed cognitive-behavioral therapy can be used to treat adolescents and adults with a history of sexual, physical, or mental abuse.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy

During EMDR sessions, people use specific eye movements to help reduce stress and other symptoms of trauma.

Exposure therapy

The goal of exposure therapy is to help people break patterns of avoidance by learning healthy coping skills and facing fears in a controlled, safe environment.


Psychotherapy–also known as talk therapy–gives people a safe, supportive space to share experiences, process emotions, and work toward goals with the help of a licensed therapist.

Group therapy

Group therapy sessions allow people to share stories and experiences with a therapist and peers.

Trauma-informed care is critical during addiction treatment for people living with trauma and addiction. Specialized, sensitive care can help people recover from trauma and heal the roots of their substance abuse. Holistic, trauma-informed care can transform people’s lives and give them the foundation for a healthier, sober future.

Find Trauma-Informed Care

If you or a loved one lives with trauma and addiction, reach out to the caring specialists at the Mandala Healing Center now. Our holistic treatment programs are thoughtfully designed to give you the support and skills to thrive in recovery. Call now to take the first step toward your healthier future.