Female psychologist consulting pensive man during psychological therapy session

Substance use disorders and trauma many times go hand in hand. When treating substance dependence, it’s very important to address and treat any past trauma to fully heal. Without treating the trauma, many people are not able to remain in recovery. Sometimes treatment centers only end up dealing with half of the problem. However, with the right treatment and proper follow up care, many people experience meaningful and effective sobriety.

If you’ve experienced trauma in your life and are struggling with a substance use disorder, there are a few things that can help you find successful sobriety. First, learning more about substance use disorders and their co-occurrence with trauma will explain why it is so important to address both concurrently. Furthermore, learning what to look for in a treatment center will help you pick the right one for effective therapy. Here are a few tips to help you find the treatment you need to flourish in your sobriety.

6 Tips For Effective Treatment Of Substance Use Disorders And Trauma

  1. Substance use disorders are often formed as a coping mechanism for trauma. So, without appropriately treating trauma, the emotional pain can creep back in and cause a relapse. For the optimum chance for sustained sobriety, simultaneous treatment of substance dependence and trauma is needed.
  2. Make sure the treatment center you select has a properly educated staff. The staff conducting the treatment should have a master’s level degree or higher to treat trauma. Most drug and alcohol counselors are not allowed legally to treat trauma, because it is outside the scope of their education, training, and practice. Only a licensed physician or psychotherapist is legally allowed to even attend to the trauma and very few therapist interns, with some exceptions, are truly ready to work with the level of trauma many substance dependent individuals are faced with.
  3. There are many forms of treatment for trauma. Some commonly used evidence based treatments are EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy), Trauma Focused-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Exposure Therapy, and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. There are also some emerging therapies that are showing promise in research and could be considered evidence based soon. These therapies include the Trauma Resiliency Model, Somatic Experiencing, and Neuro-Feedback.
  4. Substance use disorders and trauma should both be addressed during treatment, as trauma integrated treatment provides the best results. All aspects of the treatment program need to have a conscientiousness of trauma, and an assumption of pre-existing trauma, built into their model to create an emotionally and physically safe environment for trauma to be effectively treated within. Emotionally unsuitable environments for individuals suffering from traumatic disorders can actually cause more harm.
  5. Trauma work is not typically complete at the end of chemical dependency treatment. While significant headway can be made in some cases, follow up should include a therapist trained specifically in treating trauma and substance use disorders. The two disorders can, and will, interact with one another and the mistreatment of one, by a therapist without the appropriate expertise, can cause a relapse of the other. Plan for follow up therapy with an experienced therapist to further your trauma work and increase your chances for long term sobriety.


For the best results, find a treatment center that focuses on addressing trauma and substance use disorders at the same time.
Treating past traumas allows you to work through those painful feelings that often lead to relapse. Before you sign up with a treatment center, do some research. What sort of credentials do the staff have? Who will be conducting the treatment therapies? And what methods of treatment will they be using? Taking the time to find the right treatment center that deals with both substance abuse and trauma will lead to better outcomes and more fulfilling sobriety.