Trauma and Addiction: Renascent’s Approach to Recovery

There is a complicated, often circular relationship between addiction and trauma. People with a history of trauma are more likely to develop a have substance use disorder and those struggling with a substance use disorder are at greatly increased risk of new traumatic experiences.  

But what is trauma? The word Trauma refers to events that are distressing, disturbing, or otherwise upsetting. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-5-TR), a traumatic event is “exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.” In actuality, this can occur by directly experiencing the event, witnessing the event, learning of it happening to a close friend or family member, or repeatedly being exposed to the extreme details of the traumatic event.

Many turn to substances to try to manage the persistent difficult emotional and mental symptoms of their trauma. The substances provide comfort and positive emotions (at least in the early stages of addiction) and act as a form of self-medication.

Trauma Informed Care in Addiction Treatment

Due to their interconnectedness, addiction and trauma should be healed concurrently. Focusing solely on addiction recovery can result in relapse, as the underlying issues which may have contributed to the substance use have not been dealt with.

“Trauma can be a trigger for relapse. Through appropriately addressing the trauma people can develop healthy coping mechanisms and that’s what we are about at Renascent,” said Lateasha MacIsaac, Assistant Manager, Renascent Graham Munro Centre.

Through Renascent’s evidence-informed  approach to addiction treatment, conversations about trauma begin at the assessment phase, before the client comes into treatment. Renascent’s Client Care and Access Centre completes a thorough assessment with each client which includes enquiring about whether they have experienced trauma.

“We are very sensitive to each client’s situation and ensure they are in a safe environment before even approaching the topic. We ask the client to share about the type(s) of trauma they experienced, as this information will help our addiction counsellors best support the client when they enter the treatment setting,” said Glen Adams, Manager – Client Care and Access Centre, Renascent.  

Additionally, there are many other junctures throughout each client’s treatment journey where trauma is appropriately discussed , often in a one-on-one and with Seeking Safety in a group setting.

“For example, during our 7-day assessment with live-in treatment clients, we explore their progression of substance use and that opens the door to discussing their experience with trauma,” said MacIsaac.  “This approach is adopted because in order to properly address trauma, the client has to feel that they are in a safe and supportive environment.”

“Renascent’s counsellors do a tremendous job of recognizing the impact of trauma, the underlying issues that contribute to trauma, and how it underpins their addiction and mental health. Trauma isn’t necessarily obvious. Sometimes people have trauma and they don’t even know it. They don’t make the connection that an event impacted them in a traumatic way. We help them understand trauma’s impact while providing essential coping tools and skills.”

How Renascent Uses the Seeking Safety Program to Help Clients with Trauma

Seeking Safety is a program designed to help people who have experienced trauma to develop healthy coping skills and establish safety in their lives. Renascent’s clinical team is trained in this methodology and has integrated it into its live-in treatment programming ensuring a holistic approach to addressing substance abuse and trauma concurrently.  Seeking Safety is paired with recovery education and counselling in a group setting.

“Seeking Safety is the gold standard for addressing trauma in the addiction treatment setting. A clinician should not address trauma in any great depth without the client having the coping skills needed to properly manage what comes with that. Additionally, you have to develop a relationship of trust with the client first and that takes time,” said Adams.

As a structured program, Seeking Safety follows a specific protocol. Here are some ways in which Seeking Safety benefits Renascent’s clients:

  • Improved Safety and Resilience: Helps clients to develop a sense of safety and resilience, which is crucial for recovery. By learning how to identify and respond to potential triggers and stressors, clients can reduce their risk of relapse and increase their ability to cope with life’s challenges.
  • Increased Self-Awareness: Helps clients become more self-aware, which is an essential component of recovery. By understanding their own triggers, reactions, and behaviors, clients can better manage their own addiction and trauma symptoms.
  • Community Engagement: In a community-based setting, clients are encouraged to engage with others who are going through similar experiences. This can help them feel less alone and more supported in their recovery journey.
  • Holistic Treatment: Helps to ensure that clients receive holistic treatment that addresses both their addiction and trauma. By focusing on concurrent issues, clients can experience more sustainable recovery and better long-term outcomes.

“Clients have responded well to the Seeking Safety Program. They really like the groups and find them helpful and engaging,” said MacIsaac.

After completing treatment at Renascent, clients have the tools and strategies needed to help them prioritize healthy coping skills, when previously they may have opted to use a substance.

“Prior to attending treatment, a client’s coping mechanism is to use or drink. In treatment, they learn to replace that with something else that is health; and what it is replaced with can be different for each client,” said MacIsaac. “This takes consistent practice, especially for people who are new to recovery as those healthy coping strategies haven’t been engrained as yet. It takes time to switch strategies.”

Addressing trauma is a long-term process that may require years of care. Renascent’s counsellors provide clients with referrals to other community resources and supplemental supports so that after treatment clients can continue to build upon the progress they’ve made while at our centres.

How Renascent Helps

Renascent deeply understands that each person’s recovery is different, with every individual having unique needs. We are here to support and guide clients to ensure they get the supportive treatment they need. Your Road to Recovery starts here. 

About the Authors

Renascent Staff
The staff at Renascent is passionate about helping people with substance addictions so they can reach their full recovery – with compassion, respect, empathy and understanding. Our staff includes our counsellors, all of whom have lived experience of addiction and recovery.