Coping with a Disaster or Traumatic Event

It’s completely normal for people to experience stressful events and situations throughout their lives. In most cases, a person may linger on a stressful event for a bit before moving on eventually. Unfortunately, this is normally not the case when it comes to traumatic events. Psychological trauma happens when a person experiences intense damage that affects that person’s psyche. In many cases, a person may have a lot of trouble coping with the emotions and symptoms tied to the traumatic event. This may eventually cause that person to turn to substance abuse to cope. Once this happens that person experiences trauma and substance abuse issues. 

In some instances, a person who experiences a traumatic event may turn to drugs and alcohol for relief. However, trauma and substance abuse are typically a dangerous combination. 

What tends to happen is substance abuse just makes the symptoms of the trauma worse. In a lot of cases, a person is unable to deal with the trauma. When that happens, that person’s trauma often turns into post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Even though it may be extremely tough to talk about past trauma, opening up is an essential step to recovery. Additionally, there are things you can do to help cope with a traumatic experience. 

Recovery may be a long and tough road, but it is achievable. Our wonderful staff here at Florida Center for Recovery is ready to help you tackle both trauma and addiction with several evidence-based therapies. 

What is Psychological Trauma?

Psychological trauma occurs when someone experiences an extremely stressful event that dismantles that person’s sense of security and reality. Such an event is usually so traumatic that the person’s mind cannot cope with the overwhelming amount of stress that it brings. 

Traumatic events are very subjective and vary from case to case. They can even lead back to childhood PTSD in adults. 

Several different types of psychological/emotional trauma can occur. However, no two cases of trauma are the same and everyone’s mind is different. 

Examples of things that can cause psychological trauma include:

  • Severe accidents
  • Domestic violence
  • A life-threatening illness
  • Neglect during childhood
  • Humiliation (various forms)
  • Repeated harassment/bullying
  • Violent attacks (childhood or in adulthood)
  • The death of a loved one (or someone close to you)

Coping with these traumatic events can be especially difficult. Unfortunately, some people experience trauma at a very young age. This forces these people to have to deal with trauma for the bulk of their lives. 

Some people even experience the effects of trauma even though they aren’t directly affected by the traumatic event. Eventually, this can cause a person to abuse substances to cope. Over time, this continued substance abuse can lead to addiction. 

For individuals that are struggling with trauma and substance abuse, it’s never too late to get help. You are not alone.

Who Experiences Psychological Trauma?

Psychological trauma can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, race, age, or any other identifiable factors. With this in mind, some people may be more prone to its effect than others. If a person was born in a stable and supportive environment, that person may be able to process traumatic events better. On the other hand, if a person was born in a shaky and abusive home, that person may be more prone to its effects and PTSD later on in life. 

Childhood trauma, in particular, can be the cause of many problems throughout a person’s life. Childhood trauma can substantially increase a person’s chance of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as addiction down the line. Witnessing abuse at an early age also increases your chances of developing PTSD or addiction. 

PTSD is caused by psychological trauma and can be extremely problematic when mixed with other substances, such as alcohol. Nearly 7.5 million Americans are affected by post-traumatic stress disorder every year. 

With this in mind, not everyone who experiences psychological trauma will end up developing PTSD down the line. One of the most important elements of psychological trauma is learning how to cope with it without turning to drugs (which leads to trauma and addiction). 

Psychological Trauma and Substance Abuse

People may be quick to turn to substance abuse and alcohol to cope with the overwhelming stress from experiencing psychological trauma. Drugs and alcohol tend to relax a person and numb the sensations. 

People may turn to drugs like benzodiazepines to help them focus on their life while combating their anxiety. Individuals may also turn to more sensational drugs like psychedelics for a spiritual escape. 

If these feelings persist and a person continues to ‘self-medicate’ with drugs, an addiction may form. Apart from addiction, such a person may become dependent on a particular drug/alcohol. Dependence occurs when a person experiences withdrawal symptoms when they are not using the drug. 

While people may genuinely believe that drugs help them deal with their traumatic experiences, the truth is quite the opposite. Drugs and alcohol tend to worsen the effects of traumatic events and PTSD over time. This is why it’s important to tackle addiction and trauma simultaneously.

Techniques for Coping With a Traumatic Event

There are certain techniques a person can use to cope with a traumatic event. It’s important to practice healthy coping techniques that are free of drugs/alcohol. Consider some of the following coping tips throughout the day:

  • Stick to a strict routine
  • Stay clear of alcohol and all drugs
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle (eat healthy, exercise, sleep)
  • Spend time with loved ones and close friends (for support and help through the tough times) 

Eating healthy and practicing meditation (or other relaxation tips) can be very beneficial. While these things can be very therapeutic, it’s also important to be honest about your situation and seek professional help. 

Some might be embarrassed or hesitant to ask for help but at Florida Center for Recovery, we encourage and welcome you with open arms. You are not alone in your battle. 

Getting Professional Treatment

Problems truly arise when psychological trauma and substance abuse are combined. In fact, trauma combined with substance abuse creates a co-occurring disorder. A co-occurring disorder (also referred to as a dual diagnosis disorder) occurs when a person is dealing with both a mental illness (or in this case trauma) and a substance abuse problem. 

While it’s important to treat both disorders within a dual diagnosis disorder simultaneously, It’s also important to look at each part of a dual diagnosis disorder individually. When it comes to dual diagnosis disorders, only treating one condition is not enough for recovery. 

Treatment for co-occurring disorders consists of psychotherapy and medication (used simultaneously). Medication can help relieve some of the symptoms of trauma (depression, anxiety, panic attacks, etc.). It can also treat certain aspects of drug addiction (withdrawal symptoms and other effects). 

In all cases of addiction treatment, a person has a personalized schedule and plan that should be followed for success. Let’s take a closer look at some of the treatment options for trauma and substance abuse. 


Perhaps one of the most vital parts of addiction treatment, detoxification (detox) is a process that works to relieve and tame some of the withdrawal symptoms when a person stops using. Detox essentially purges the body of all substances and alcohol. 

Detox should always be under medical supervision, never alone. After detox, a person will most likely move on to inpatient or outpatient treatment to focus on coping and understanding his or her condition. 

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment is usually the next step after detox. This form of treatment requires patients to stay in a rehab center for a few months. 

During inpatient treatment, you’ll have access to medical professionals and the chance to deconstruct the traumatic experience that led you into addiction. Therapy will be used during treatment for both mental health disorders like PTSD and full-blown drug addiction. 

Another great benefit of inpatient treatment is the 24/7 support that it provides from staff and other people in the same situation. Thus, no matter what, you’re in a safe and distraction-free environment to open up and recover from trauma and substance abuse while attending inpatient treatment. 

Therapy Options (Individual and Group)

In cases of co-occurring disorders like trauma and substance abuse, therapy is used. Common forms of therapy include:

  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

Medications are often given to patients in these forms of therapy so that patients can manage their withdrawal symptoms and focus on achieving long-term sobriety. Trauma and addiction both cause a multitude of physical problems and behavioral changes. This is why it’s crucial to receive professional treatment for both conditions within a dual diagnosis disorder.  

Take the First Step Towards Recovery With Florida Center for Recovery

At Florida Center for Recovery, we understand how painful psychological trauma can be for a person. It’s especially challenging when trauma and substance abuse intertwine. If you are concerned that you or a loved one may have an addiction or a co-occurring disorder, it may be time to get help. Don’t wait to get help, contact us today to learn more about our treatment plans and addiction resources.