Substance abuse and trauma often overlap. As many as 59 percent of people with PTSD develop a substance abuse problem at some point, illustrating the clear connection between the two.

Abusing substances provides people with the opportunity to dull their feelings related to anxiety, depression, anger and fear. Understanding how these experiences intersect and taking both into account plays an important role in the success of any substance abuse recovery problem.

If you, or a loved one, has developed a substance abuse problem after trauma, here is what you should know about the critical relationship between trauma and substance abuse. It’s important to remember that successful treatment takes both into account.

How Does Trauma Impact Substance Abuse Treatment?

Successful substance abuse treatment needs to take trauma into account. In order for success, the following three main criteria must be met:

  1. Treatment should acknowledge the role of trauma in the development of substance abuse disorder and recovery. This interaction should guide medical professionals when developing treatment plans and incorporating strategies to deal with this portion of the patient’s story.
  2. Treatment should also focus on helping patients develop healthier ways to deal with their past trauma and stress. The potential for relapse should not be amplified by neglecting some of the root causes of pain and desire for substances.
  3. Treatment should also consider how to integrate other important parts of treatment related to the trauma into the overall recovery program. For example, family therapy and group therapy to develop support systems can be an important part of trauma recovery.

Treating Substance Abuse and Trauma

There are a few different strategies that can be used to help patients who struggle with trauma and substance abuse. The National Trauma Consortium in particular discusses the following five strategies:


ATRIUM stands for the ‘Addiction and Trauma Recovery Integration Model’. This model works to help patients mentally, physically, and spiritually. It consists of a 12-week curriculum that works for patients who have been victims of abuse, who engage in harmful relationships and who are violent towards others while also abusing substances.

Through education and expressive activities, patients learn the impact of drugs and trauma on the body. They are also taught how to cope with their trauma without relying on substances.

Helping Women Recover

Helping Women Recover specifically targets women who struggle with both addiction and past trauma. The 17 sessions throughout the curriculum help patients heal in four main areas: self, relationships, spirituality, and sexuality. Expressive arts, CBT, and relational theory are all important components of this treatment strategy.

Seeking Safety

Seeking Safety was designed for those who have PTSD as well as substance abuse disorder. The topics discussed during these sessions cover a range of topics, including taking back your power, setting boundaries, coping with triggers, and what happens with substances that control you.

It focuses on cognitive, behavioral, interpersonal, and case management treatment to help patients achieve the best possible chances for success.

Trauma Recovery and Empowerment Model

The Trauma Recovery and Empowerment Model focuses on helping women who have endured trauma in addition to developing substance abuse problems. It follows a course outline of 24-29 sessions, each working to help patients recover from various forms of abuse in addition to coping with mental health problems.

Sessions focus on empowerment, learning how to comfort themselves without substances, and establishing boundaries. Women also learn skills-building to help them nurture healthier relationships with those around them.


Triad focuses on the idea that women must first begin to heal from the problems that arise from trauma before they can make genuine progress with their substance abuse disorder. Sessions work to help patients reduce and manage their symptoms associated with their past trauma and then move towards abstinence from substance use and abuse.

Why Treatment for Substance Abuse and Trauma is Critical

To move forward successfully with treatment, those who struggle with substance abuse must have care that understands the interaction between trauma and the development of substance abuse.

When patients use substances to dull their emotional and psychological reactions to past trauma, true progress cannot be made until these problems have been addressed. That is what makes trauma and addiction a continually important subject when it comes to treatment and recovery.

Get Help

Those who struggle with both past trauma and a current substance abuse problem should seek treatment that focuses on helping people in this situation.

Trained professionals who can help patients unpack the hurt and pain that arises from trauma, and the psychological conditions that can occur, will be in the best position to help patients make progress in their recovery.

There are a variety of treatment models available, as discussed above, each one offering its own benefits and drawbacks. When you or a loved one realize that treatment is needed to properly face substance abuse and trauma, look at the facilities that specialize in this area of treatment.

Trauma can have a devastating impact on people’s psychological health, including their use of illicit substances.

When people turn to substances to help them cope with trauma, it can lead them down the path leading to substance abuse and addiction.

The relationship between trauma and substance abuse is very intertwined. For those struggling with these conditions, treatment should take trauma into account. Therapy should be utilized that helps the person heal physically from their substance abuse, while teaching better ways of coping with trauma.


  1. Substance use, childhood traumatic experience, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in an urban civilian population.
  2. Enhancing Substance Abuse Recovery Through Integrated Trauma Treatment

We would love your feedback.

Was this article helpful?

Treatment Questions? Call 24/7.

(855) 265-2123