PTSD, Alcohol/Substance Abuse & Recovery


We Are Often Unaware of the Effects of Trauma

The relationship between substance use disorders and PTSD is well established but often people with substance abuse issues are unaware of related trauma. Research supports that unaddressed PTSD or trauma is a factor for relapse with substance abuse disorders though getting to the core of these traumatic memories is difficult.

Talk therapy and 12-step groups can be helpful in treating addiction, but often individuals that have worked their program find themselves in relapse blaming themselves for not being good enough to stick with their recovery.

Good news is that there is hope for trauma treatment as it relates to alcohol, drug use and relapse, with treatments.

Somatic Experiencing® is based on work by Peter Levine  who has studied animals and how they process through traumatic events in nature. Animals in the wild are able to literally shake off a traumatic event and return to a state of regulation.

Continuing to Live in the Past

Unlike most animals, human beings have difficulty returning to a state of regulation because we think deeply about the event in the newest part of the brain the neo-cortex. This thinking actually blocks the older parts of the brain from processing through the event.

In other words, we continue to live in the past, replaying what happened and planning how to avoid potential threats in the future.

Finding “Regulation” in Drugs or Alcohol

With this constant focus on past and future we lose our ability to live in the present moment. At the same time our nervous system wants to return to a state of regulation and we find ways, such as alcohol and other drugs, to induce what feels like a regulated state.

Somatic Experiencing allows individuals to experience their body in the here and now so they can release trauma and return to a state of being curious, open and connected with others without drinking or using substances. 

Excerpted from "Substance and Alcohol Abuse to Deal with Trauma." Sandra Lehmann, MC, LPC, CEAT