Incorporating Trauma-Informed Care into Addiction Treatment
“The old school ‘tough love’ mentality doesn’t work with traumatized individuals. People who have suffered trauma need understanding, and environments that can help calm their fight or flight response and allow them to reclaim a sense of control.” – Tiffany Dzioba, Psy.D., LMFT, Clinical Director, Malibu Beach Recovery Centers
As a therapist working with teens in the foster care system, Dr. Tiffany Dzioba worked with many young people who had suffered trauma and also had mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Some also turned to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope or numb their pain.
Research bears out what Dr. Dzioba witnessed among the adolescents. A history of trauma, such as emotional, physical or sexual abuse, neglect or witnessing violence, boosts the odds of substance abuse later in life.
“We understand that addiction is often a symptom of something deeper going on emotionally,” Dzioba said. “We see high rates of trauma with the clients who come into our treatment. We’re not only teaching our clients about recovery skills and relapse prevention skills and helping to contain the addiction, but we are working a lot with the underlying trauma, with the underlying emotions that fuel that desire to turn to a substance to help them cope with whatever is happening in their life.”
Trauma Can Lead to Fear, Anxiety
For individuals struggling with addiction, a history of trauma may have contributed to their alcohol and drug use. For others, substance use led people to put themselves into dangerous or compromising situations that made them vulnerable to trauma.
Physiologically, people who have suffered from trauma tend to have higher “baseline arousal levels,” meaning their fight-or-flight response mechanism is keyed up more than normal. This can lead to fearfulness, anxiety and an overreaction to certain triggers or cues.
“The old school ‘tough love’ mentality doesn’t work with traumatized individuals,” Dzioba said. “People who have suffered trauma need understanding, and environments that can help calm their fight-or-flight response and allow them to reclaim a sense of control.”
Trauma-Informed Care at MBRC
At Malibu Beach Recovery Centers, Dr. Dzioba and her team incorporate a form of therapy known as trauma-informed care into treatment. Trauma-informed care is the use of techniques and interventions that helps clients process and heal from traumatic experiences.
“Generally, most or all of the clients we see have experienced one or multiple traumas in their life, and as a result have differences in the way their brain is structured, the way they interact with other people and their responses to certain situations,” she said.
“Trauma-informed care is setting up an environment and a way of interacting that takes into consideration that individuals who have experienced chronic trauma have different needs.”
The atmosphere in the homes is quiet and soothing, with low sensory stimulation to help people calm themselves and turn down that fight-or-flight response.
While people in treatment for addiction need structure, rigid rules can be a trigger, she explained. “We don’t want to take away power and control from them, because a lot of times this is what happened to them when they were traumatized,” she said. “We want them to make their own choices. So we are flexible with them, within certain boundaries to keep them safe and the focus on recovery.”
Gender-Specific Environments Create Safe Spaces
Malibu Beach Recovery Centers also offers gender-specific environments, including the women-only residential treatment program at Latigo House and the men-only program at Corral Canyon House. The Sober Living homes are also single gender, as are many of the programs conducted through the Intensive Outpatient Program.
Gender-specific programs provide a safe, supportive environment that can help people who suffer from the lingering effects of trauma let their guard down and start to heal. “Clients need to feel safe, and there are things that they would not be willing to admit in a co-ed setting,” she said. “Trauma-informed care is underlying our gender-specific care.”
Dr. Dzioba also believes in incorporating spirituality into addiction treatment. Whether it’s belief in a specific religious tradition or getting reconnected to nature and feeling a part of something bigger than oneself, tapping into spirituality can be a source of comfort and empowerment.
“When somebody experiences a trauma or goes through many years of traumatic experiences, it shakes their belief about the world, about other people and about themselves,” she said. “Spirituality helps people find meaning and purpose, and helps them cope and heal. We work on a lot on that, through mindfulness and meditation, to tap into that energy and their place in the world.”