People who survive trauma and experience posttraumatic stress symptoms often develop alcohol or substance abuse problems. In some instances the addictive tendencies were present prior to the traumatic episode. Often there is a vulnerability to drug use or abuse passed down from a previous generation (e.g., a parent or other first-degree relative who had an addiction). Regardless of etiology, a very common presenting problem in the PTSD or dissociative individual is the use of illicit or prescribed drugs to self-medicate disturbing symptoms. Dr. Abueg has extensive experience in treating the dual diagnosis. Although achieving abstinence is often an important priority in therapy patients receive at TraumaResource, Dr. Abueg’s emphasis is also on treating the whole person and understanding how urges and cravings interact with a person’s traumatic symptoms and feelings of loss of control, rage, shame and humiliation. We also know that other behaviors can have addictive properties, in that they become ways to avoid pain or “numb out.”
Eating disorders, addiction to pornography, sex, online gaming or self-injury such as cutting, are all ways that survivors have found to change their mental and emotional state. These behaviors, although self-destructive, become automatic and habitual ways of shifring away from extremely painful emotional states–at least, for the moment a survivor experiences relief. Treatment involves learning methods to interrupt the urge to numb out and how to replace such urges with very simple methods such as grounding, or connecting to the here-and-now, breathing exercises, and mindful, attention management techniques. Relapse prevention involves finding new social circles of support and reclaiming a deep sense of meaning or purpose, often in service to others.
Dr. Abueg was featured in two training videotapes on the interaction between trauma and addictions conducted in collaboration with Dr. Lisa Najavits and Cavalcade Production. Practitioners and patients both can find out more about these tapes here.