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Trauma and Addiction: How to Help a Loved One Recover from Both

Trauma and Addiction: How to Help a Loved One Recover from Both

Traumatic experiences are those that cause physical, mental, spiritual, or emotional harm to an individual. They can come in many forms–from the death of a loved one to domestic abuse to living through a natural disaster–causing a ripple effect of scars unseen by even those closest to them. Studies show a high correlation between trauma and substance use. Those who experienced or are experiencing trauma are much more likely to use substances and develop a substance use disorder. The key to long-term recovery is dealing with this trauma. 

If your loved one is in addiction recovery and also healing from trauma, knowing what trauma looks like and its effects on an individual can help you better support your loved one’s journey. 

Each person who goes through trauma processes and internalizes it differently, and therefore each individual will respond in their own unique way. Oftentimes, there may not be any physical signs of trauma. The effects of trauma will often present as subtle changes in a person’s everyday demeanor and inflated emotional responses to typical situations. There are many ways to help your loved one identify, support, and manage the effects of trauma.  

Some signs of trauma:

  • Depression, anxiety, and nervousness
  • Isolating oneself from social situations or close relationships; withdrawing from normally enjoyed activities 
  • Noticeable changes in character or decision-making process
  • Altered sleeping and eating patterns; traumatic events recurring in dreams 
  • Emotional outbursts of anger or sadness
  • Expressions of denial or self-loathing 

Once we are able to identify signs of trauma in our loved one, we can start to help them manage its aftermath. Not all will respond the same to each suggested support. Managing the stressors associated with trauma is an individualized process and should be treated as so.

It is important to note that support groups and various types of sharing circles may work very well for some, but they may be unapproachable for others who may be feeling more introverted at this time. 

Creative ways to mitigate the stress associated with trauma:

  • Hobbies: Research has shown that having a hobby may be related to feeling more purpose in life. Help your loved one take the time to nourish their inner self with activities they enjoy. Drawing, painting, playing in nature, or other expressive activities can help people process trauma. Gardening, for example, is associated with lowering cortisol levels (stress hormones). 
  • Group therapy or support groups: Research substantiates the efficacy of continuing support through group settings during and after trauma. Some people may feel safer in larger group settings, and others may prefer a more intimate experience. Listen to your loved one to help them find the best professional and social support groups for their journey. Try looking into alternative therapies like ecstatic movement or dance, art therapies, or EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). 
  • Health, Wellness, and Fitness: After a traumatic experience, it is common to want to focus on physical and mental health. Encourage your loved one to be active and enjoy a whole-foods, well balanced diet. Help them find others who may share the same health goals.  

When processed in a healthy way with professional support, trauma can become an opportunity for reflection and growth. Someone in addiction recovery is probably aware that isolating themselves is not healthy for their sobriety, but they may still be afraid to engage. This is why careful listening and gentle encouragement are so important. Listen to your loved one without judgment, be patient, and be ready to offer resources if they ask for help.  

We are in no way perfect ourselves, and supporting someone in recovery from both addiction and trauma is a tricky and time-consuming process. It can be stressful for you and your loved one, which is why you need to know when to reach out for professional support

Great Oaks provides many opportunities for families to learn how to support each other. We are here for you and your loved ones.