What Trauma Therapies are Used During Addiction Treatment?

what trauma therapies are used during addiction treatment

People struggling with addiction are exposed to an immense amount of stress, danger, and traumatic experiences. While simply engaging in the lifestyle of drug addiction can expose someone to trauma, many people who abuse substances experienced trauma before using drugs. With that being said, trauma and addiction tend to come hand in hand. 

According to the National Library of Medicine, 60% of women and 30% of men with addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions have a history of physical trauma. Additionally, 47% of women and 17% of men who meet the same criteria have a history of sexual trauma.[1]

Keeping this in mind, it is clear that the inclusion of trauma-informed care in substance abuse treatment programs is a necessity. Understanding the types of trauma therapy used in addiction treatment can help motivate clients to get the help they need.

Seeking Safety (SS)

Seeking Safety is an evidence-based therapy that aims to help people reach safety from trauma and substance abuse. This form of therapy does not require clients to disclose detailed accounts of their trauma to avoid re-traumatization. Additionally, Seeking Safety provides people with vital coping skills to help them attain safety in their relationships, emotions, behaviors, and thinking.

The categories of skills taught in Seeking Safety include:

  • Setting healthy boundaries
  • Learning how to be honest
  • Healing from anger
  • Thinking with a mindset of recovery 
  • Learning compassion for themselves 

This type of trauma-informed care is extremely effective in treating the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, this type of therapy is effective in treating the following:[2]

  • Substance use disorder
  • family/social functioning
  • Trauma symptoms 
  • Anxiety
  • Dissociation 
  • Feelings and thoughts related to safety
  • Sexuality 
  • Hostility 
  • Meaningfulness
  • Overall functioning 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapy that was created in 1987 for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This type of trauma therapy is based on the Adaptive Information Processing Model, which considers the symptoms of trauma to cause distress due to the memory not being processed effectively. As a result, the unprocessed memories cause symptoms of PTSD and cause issues with emotions, behaviors, thoughts, and beliefs.

According to the American Psychological Association, EMDR is “A structured therapy that encourages the patient to briefly focus on the trauma memory while simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimulation (typically eye movements), which is associated with a reduction in the vividness and emotion associated with the trauma memories.”[3]

EMDR provides the following benefits:

  • Reduction in PTSD symptoms 
  • Loss of PTSD diagnosis 
  • Reduced self-harming behaviors 
  • Lessened feelings of stress and anxiety
  • Improved feelings of anger 
  • Decreased depression 
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Reduced symptoms of addiction 

In recent years, using EMDR in addiction treatment has become increasingly popular.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of evidence-based therapy that focuses on the client’s relationship with their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Using skills-based approaches, individuals will address negative patterns of thoughts and behaviors to replace them with positive ones. This is extremely effective in treating trauma and PTSD. 

CBT helps address PTSD by providing clients with the tools they need to engage in healthy emotional processing regarding their trauma. 

Additionally, it helps people who have suffered a traumatic experience stop viewing themselves or their environments as inherently bad. This is a common consequence of trauma, according to the social cognitive theory which states that individuals attempt to incorporate their experience of trauma into their beliefs about themselves, others, and the world around them. 

The benefits of CBT for individuals with trauma and addiction include:

  • Adoption of healthy coping skills associated with trauma and substance abuse
  • The ability to identify and change negative patterns of thought or behavior
  • Reduction in PTSD symptoms 
  • Help with staying in the present rather than focusing on the past
  • The ability to gain control of one’s thoughts 
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Learning to manage triggers and regulate one’s emotions

Psychodynamic Trauma Therapy 

Psychodynamic trauma therapy is effective in treating the symptoms of trauma and PTSD. This therapeutic approach takes a look at early childhood experiences, current relationships, and unconscious coping mechanisms that clients may use to protect themselves from their past traumas.

This type of trauma therapy emphasizes the unconscious mind, as it is believed that this is where the feelings, emotions, and memories that are too difficult for individuals to process are housed. Even though these feelings and memories are not at the forefront of an individual’s mind, they still affect their behaviors. Psychodynamic trauma therapy works to address these hidden issues to influence a positive behavior change. 

This form of therapy has been shown to provide clients with the following benefits:[4]

  • Improvement in interpersonal relationships 
  • Fewer feelings of inadequacy or hostility 
  • Increased assertiveness and confidence 
  • Reduced symptoms of PTSD
  • Improvements in depression symptoms 

Addiction Treatment for Trauma and Substance Abuse

If you or a loved one suffers from addiction and a history of trauma, both issues must be addressed within the same treatment program. Thankfully, rehab centers like Moving Mountains Recovery include recovery programs that use a trauma-informed approach to treatment. In addition to treating the root cause of your addiction, we also help you establish a life so full of passion and motivation that there is no room left for drugs and alcohol.

If you or a loved one are ready to begin your recovery, please contact us today.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4766974/
  2. https://www.ojp.gov/ncjrs/virtual-library/abstracts/seeking-safety-therapy-trauma-and-substance-abuse
  3. https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/eye-movement-reprocessing
  4. https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/10.1521/psyc.2008.71.1.13
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