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Addiction Recovery And Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma-Informed Care in Addiction Recovery: Understanding and Benefits


For many people, recovery from substance abuse and addiction involves multiple approaches and methods. And since each person and their path to recovery are unique, recovery centers usually offer different types of therapies to meet these needs.

One of these approaches that applies to many people recovering from addiction is known as Trauma-Informed Care. In short, trauma-informed care is a broader type of approach rather than a specific mode of therapy. It’s most easily identified as how care is implemented—the culture of a program or treatment center—rather than the specifics of what is being done.

What Is Trauma?

Trauma and traumatic experiences reach far and wide, often contributing to the development of other behavioral and substance addictions. Varying degrees and expressions of abuse and/or neglect are usually the two main criteria for traumatic experiences.

Trauma also plays a role in the diagnoses and development of co-occurring disorders. These can include mental, physical, and emotional disorders that overlap or co-occur with substance abuse and addiction.

Because of these traumatic or adverse experiences, there is often a higher risk of re-traumatization during the addiction recovery process. Whether it happens as a result of certain restraints, isolation/seclusion, unhealthy cultural attitudes of the treatment center and staff, or simply ignorance of the client’s multifaceted issues, re-traumatization can set the recovery back significantly.

What Is Trauma-Informed Care?

But there are ways to minimize the risks of re-traumatization during the recovery process. According to a collaboration with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), trauma-informed care is distinguished by six major principles:

  • Safety
  • Trustworthiness and Transparency
  • Peer Support
  • Collaboration and Mutuality
  • Empowerment Voice and Choice
  • Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues

Although these principles may sound somewhat vague, they are intended to be. The flexibility and adaptive qualities of trauma-informed care are its greatest strengths. And since the cultural attitudes of a treatment center are usually rooted in overall staff satisfaction, the well-being of the professional staff is often where trauma-informed care begins.

How Many People In Addiction Recovery Are Affected By Trauma?

While trauma can take a number of different forms, one of the most common in substance abuse and addiction are experiences of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Consider the following statistics from a study on ACEs in collaboration with CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):

  • About two-thirds of intravenous drug users experienced trauma or had ACEs as children
  • Individuals who have experienced five or more ACEs are 7-10 times more likely to develop substance abuse and addiction patterns
  • About 75% of people receiving addiction treatment have a history of trauma and ACEs
  • Over 30% of people receiving addiction treatment have had a formal diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, otherwise known as PTSD

These data points show the extremely high numbers of individuals in addiction recovery with significant experiences of trauma. Trauma-informed care, therefore, should be a relevant if not essential aspect of addiction recovery treatment.

Benefits of Trauma-Informed Care

Although more research has been done on trauma-informed care in recent years, more work still needs to be done to evaluate the measurable benefits of trauma-informed care. According to a recent study in the journal for Research on Social Work Practice, the outcomes of implementing trauma-informed practices in addiction recovery positively impacted both the organization or treatment center, as well as the clients in recovery.

  • Cultural Climate: By using trauma-informed care practices, staff members felt more safe both emotionally and physically as a result. They also experienced increases in four other areas of trauma-informed care principles: trustworthiness, choice, collaboration, and empowerment.
  • Policies and Procedures: There were also more measurable improvements in the day-to-day operations. Improvements from trauma-informed practices positively affected arenas related to supervision, support, self-care, staff training, and intake procedures.
  • Staff Satisfaction: Trustworthiness and collaboration among staff members were markedly improved after implementing trauma-informed practices. Moreover, staff felt more fulfilled in their roles and felt empowered to be creative and innovative.
  • Client Satisfaction: Individuals in recovery also benefited from trauma-informed care, including the ability to trust staff and build rapport more quickly. Clients also felt that the staff were better equipped to solve problems more quickly and efficiently.
  • Client Retention: Retention during the recovery process is often a key to long-term success, as well as lowering the risks of relapse. With trauma-informed care practices, research showed an overall increase in client retention during treatment.

Importance of Trauma-Informed Care for Addiction Recovery

In addition to the benefits mentioned above, trauma-informed care is becoming even more important for recovery from addiction and substance abuse. By providing supportive environments that are less likely to re-traumatize a person struggling with addiction, recovery programs have a much better chance of treatment success.

Trauma-informed care also takes the family into consideration beyond just the classic “family therapy” model. Sometimes involving family members at the wrong time or under the wrong conditions can re-traumatize the person struggling with addiction, which can cause major setbacks in the recovery process. Trauma-informed care, however, addresses these nuances in family dynamics and approaches them with care.

Two of the most important aspects of trauma-informed care for addiction recovery are collaboration and empowerment. By retraining the brain and forming new ways of processing trauma, those in recovery gain so much more than just generic coping skills—they walk away with personalized strategy plans for adapting their responses to trauma and being in triggering situations.


Based on the prevalence of traumatic experiences of those in recovery, trauma-informed care should be on the forefront of addiction treatment. And according to the research done thus far, the risks of re-traumatization can be greatly decreased by trauma-informed care practices. The well-being of staff, cultural climate of the center, and overall safety and stability of the recovery environment have a significant impact on client recovery—in the short-term and the long-term.

To learn more about how to start your healing journey at Impact Recovery, get in touch with a member of our team here.