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From the Frying Pan into the Fire – trauma can lead to substance misuse

Some individuals struggling with substance use have been traumatized.

Whether in military service, as first responders, victims of crime or natural catastrophes, or witnesses of accidents and other violent events they have been affected in a way that makes normal functioning extremely difficult or even impossible. There is another form of traumatization that is not connected to a single extreme event but is the result of a long lasting or repeated incidents like domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, bullying in school or at work, living in a war zone, experiencing famine or having to flee your home and become a refugee.

Unfortunately for these sufferers the attempt to remedy their distress by using substances to self-medicate frequently leads them down a path to misuse and chemical dependency. In order to recover these individuals not only have to address their substance use but they must face the trauma and resolve it. Fortunately there are professionals that are trained to help and guide these persons out of the dark prison of trauma into the light of a joyous and free life.

Dr. Rita Romero is a highly respected and supremely experienced specialist in helping sufferers to recover from trauma. Through years of working with active duty military, veterans, and civilians she has honed her skills to become a sought after therapist.

We feel very fortunate that we could win her as a guest blogger to provide us with a brief description what trauma is, where it comes from, and what can be done about it.

TRAUMA- Defining and Recovering

Emotional or physical trauma is a complex condition.  When we experience something as extremely threatening AND we feel helpless to stop the condition, often this can lead to us feel traumatized. It is an expected response to feeling terrorized and powerless. The more quickly we address the emotional and physical symptoms that result, the more likely we will return to normal functioning.

When our bodies or emotions are attacked, a natural series of events will happen to our brains, bodies and emotions in an attempt to deal with the threat. 

OUR BRAINS: Our amazing brains, when threatened, will signal the body to quickly release stress hormones (Cortisol) to regulate our blood pressure and how our body will use its storage of fat, sugar and carbohydrates for energy.

OUR BODIES: Our pupils may dilate so we can see things more clearly, our heart will pump more quickly to make our fists and legs more powerful, we may feel nauseous or even lose control over our bladders or bowels so we won’t be weighed down with digestion and we can run faster. 

OUR EMOTIONS:  We may feel extremely anxious or may emotionally “numb out” if the pain is too great, similar to how when we hit our thumb with a hammer, it temporarily loses sensation. This complex reaction to acute stress is adaptive and useful to handle an immediate threat.However, our systems are not equipped to withstand all this stress on a regular basis. It will take a negative toll on the body as if a vehicle were continually revving its engine; it would more quickly wear out the life of the vehicle.

If we continue to have symptoms more than 4 weeks after exposure to a traumatic event, or are continually exposed to threatening traumatic events and unable to protect ourselves (when we are young or as adults), or find that there is an increased effort to stay “numbed out” with addictive use of alcohol or drugs, this may now develop into a condition called Post Traumatic Stress.  It is as if the brain gets stuck in that alert state (hyper-vigilant), tense, irritable state (hyper-aroused) or avoidant behaviors.  Specialized photographs of the brain demonstrate that a person with Post Traumatic Stress is not just feeling more stressed, their brains have been injured, changed.  This means their bodies, brains and emotions tend to continually overreact to any events whether they are low or high on the stress scale.

GOOD NEWS is that Post Trauma is a condition that we have learned to treat with evidenced based treatments.  It’s important if you have been exposed to trauma that you receive an evaluation and treatment from experts in treatment of trauma. Our brains, bodies and emotions can heal from their injury, our immune system can be strengthened to more effectively ward off disease and physical and psychological fitness restored.

–Rita Romero, PhD

About C.A.R.I.:  C.A.R.I. provides guidance on intervention, detox, drug and alcohol rehab options in North County of San Diego, including the cities of Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas, Vista, San Marcos and Rancho Santa Fe.  We help not only the people who struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, but also their families and loved ones.  Our program accepts PPO insurance from insurance providers such as Cigna, Aetna, UBH, Optum, Magellan and Value.

Make an Appointment. Call 1-800-374-5518