trauma-informed care in addiction treatment

What is Trauma?

Trauma is an emotional response that occurs after a distressing or disturbing event. Psychological trauma can have many negative effects on someone’s life. Trauma is often associated with feelings of helplessness, a diminishing sense of self, unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, and strained relationships. For someone with a history of trauma, therapy is often needed for proper treatment and support.1

Many studies have shown a correlation between trauma and substance abuse. According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), “In surveys of adolescents receiving treatment for substance abuse, more than 70% of patients had a history of trauma exposure.”2 Those who have experienced childhood trauma may be three times more likely to report past or current substance abuse. Trauma-informed care is vital in addiction treatment to ensure that everyone struggling receives the proper support and care that is needed.


Types of Trauma

Several types of trauma can affect someone’s mental well-being. The three main types of trauma are acute, chronic, and complex.

Acute Trauma

Acute trauma is caused by the occurrence of one traumatic incident that caused significant stress or put someone in a dangerous position.

Chronic Trauma

Chronic trauma results from repeated and long-term exposure to stressful situations or events. Examples of chronic trauma are child abuse, bullying, or domestic violence.

Complex Trauma

Complex trauma results from being exposed to multiple stressful events. Complex trauma often results from abuse, neglect, abandonment, or witnessing violent incidents.3


What is Trauma-Informed Care (TIC)?

Trauma-informed care recognizes the presence of trauma symptoms and works to provide a supportive environment for those struggling to receive proper treatment. Psychological trauma does play a significant role in an individual’s life and can have many negative effects. TIC creates a culture of respecting and appropriately responding to the effects of trauma at all levels.4


Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) vs Trauma-Specific Services (TSS)

Trauma-informed care is designed to recognize the effects that trauma has had on someone’s life, be a support system, and empower the individual as they take steps to recovery. However, TIC is not specifically designed to treat symptoms and syndromes related to trauma.
Trauma-specific services are evidence-based practices designed to treat and facilitate recovery from trauma. These treatments directly address the effects that trauma has had on an individual’s life and work on empowering the individual as they work through the actual consequences that trauma has caused. Oftentimes, combining TIC and TSS results in a well-rounded approach to recognizing trauma, offering support, and treating its negative effects.5


A Trauma-Informed Care Approach in Addiction Treatment

Following the steps of the trauma-informed care approach in addiction treatment can help trauma care providers recognize its symptoms in someone who is struggling. These professionals can then provide an appropriate care plan to treat both the trauma and the addiction simultaneously.


When providing trauma-informed addiction treatment, it is critical to realize the widespread impact that trauma can have. By realizing the potential impact of trauma, it will help create the appropriate paths for recovery.


Health care providers must recognize the signs and symptoms that may occur in patients with a history of trauma. This recognition will help provide the proper treatment and support needed to treat both the trauma and the addiction.


After acknowledging the effects and symptoms of trauma, health care professionals must put in place proper policies, procedures, and practices for trauma care.


Avoid Re-Traumatization

When providing addiction treatment to someone with a history of trauma, it is important to avoid re-traumatization. This factor means being aware of the patient’s experiences and avoid creating an environment that might create stress or provoke flashbacks to traumatic incidents.6


The Principles of Trauma-Informed Care

By following some specific principles, health care professionals can provide proper treatment and care for patients struggling with psychological trauma. The four guiding principles of trauma-informed care are:

  • Safety
  • Trust
  • Peer Support
  • Empowerment

Adopting a trauma-informed care approach requires constant attention, awareness, a caring environment, and possibly a cultural change throughout the organization. By implementing these guiding principles, health care providers and trauma centers can provide the best quality of care for their patients.7


What are the Benefits of Providing Trauma-Informed Care in Addiction Treatment?

Applying the trauma-informed care approach to addiction treatment can have many benefits for providers, staff, and patients.


A trauma center or health care provider that gives trauma-informed care will see many benefits. Trauma-informed care in addiction treatment programs will lead to higher success rates and a better understanding of the patients being treated. Implementing TIC can create a better organizational culture that fosters the health and well-being of everyone.


Staff members of an organization will also see many benefits by providing trauma-informed care. Staff members will feel like they are properly trained when treating patients who are dealing with psychological trauma. They will be equipped with the tools that are necessary to see the best results and feel like they are making a vital impact on both the patients and the organization.


Patients will see many benefits by receiving proper trauma-informed care during addiction treatment. Patients will feel like their situation is understood. Moreover, they will receive the best possible care based on their needs which will make the treatment process as comfortable as possible. This comfort will lead to higher rates of successful recovery and long-term results.


What are the Steps to Becoming a Trauma-Informed Facility?

If a health care organization or trauma center wants to become a trauma-informed facility, they can take the following steps.

Build Awareness

Health care organizations must build awareness about the widespread impact that trauma can have on patients. By creating awareness throughout the organization, it can shape an environment that fosters support for trauma patients and leads to the highest quality of care.


To become a trauma-informed facility, care providers must create a supportive environment for patients that helps them feel empowered. Providing therapy to patients who are dealing with trauma can be a good step towards their healing from the emotional impact that trauma has made on their life.

Hiring Workforce

Health care providers must hire a workforce with good values and who will be valuable assets to maintaining the supportive environment needed for trauma patients. Training programs that emphasize trauma-informed care should also be provided so that the staff can provide the proper care, treatment, and support as needed.

Safe Environment

Trauma-informed facilities must provide a safe environment for all patients. This safety includes putting in place the proper policies, procedures, and practices for trauma care. By following the core guidelines for trauma-informed facilities, health care organizations can ensure the proper care and treatment for all patients.



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