Trauma-Informed Addiction Treatment For Women: It’s All About The Timing

In real estate, it’s location, location, location. In working with female addicts who have experienced trauma, it’s timing, timing, timing.

There are three critical aspects of timing for this population: when to start treatment, how fast to move through treatment, and when to discharge a client.

The first is the easiest to address, but it’s often the most difficult to accomplish. The best time to start treatment is now. That’s always true, but especially so as we approach the end of the year. Often women will want to wait until after the holidays to start treatment, but for many female addicts, the stress of the big events, great expectations, and increased time with families can trigger increased use or relapse. Frequently, the deep trauma underlying substance abuse started in their families and the whole association of family and holidays can create tremendous discomfort that the addict may try to ease by using substances.

Getting into treatment before the end of the year also gives these vulnerable women a safe place to spend the holidays. For those who have trouble facing the seasonal festivities sober, a rehabilitation center can provide a haven and warmth without their personal triggers. Others may want to involve their families in their treatment, which can often provide long-term benefits. The holiday period works well for family programs as many family members will have time off that they can spend supporting their loved ones, learning about addiction and gaining a greater understanding of the role of the family dynamic in addiction and recovery.

One step at a time

The second aspect of timing plays a crucial role in successful treatment: Don’t rush the process. One of the biggest mistakes made by new therapists is trying to address trauma too quickly in those with addiction. They want to get to the traumatic issue right away and expect a discussion of the traumatic events will help identify the triggers to use and therefore get the client to stop using in short order. Often they become frustrated with addicts who continue to use or get worse while they are in therapy and grappling with their trauma issues.

Effective therapy depends on the providing the appropriate services to address trauma at the right time. Early on in treatment, clients need coping skills that help them recognize, express, and process their trauma, whether that was the direct experience of physical, emotional or sexual violence, ongoing abuse, witnessing abuse at home, or some other devastating experience. They need to learn healthy mechanisms for managing anxiety, discomfort, fear and other emotions first before they can work through the trauma.

In fact, many clients don’t have a frame of reference for living without trauma. They often don’t realize the extent of how unhealthy their life experiences may be and, as a result, don’t label their experience as being traumatic. They often see the abnormal events or situations of their lives as normal. Some education must occur first so they can develop an understanding of normal, safe and healthy day-to-day living.

Gender-specific treatment

A rehabilitation center like the Malibu Beach Recovery Centers can provide a corrective experience for addicts with traumatic pasts by establishing a soothing environment. Visual stimulation is reduced with low lighting levels and the rooms are infused with soothing scents. For many female clients who have experienced trauma at the hands of men, being around them can increase stress. So Malibu Beach Recovery Centers offer a caring setting for women by women. This kind of environment reduces the amount of stimulation that the brain must handle to free up more of it to work through the trauma.

Therapists begin to work with clients to develop personalized safety plans first. Then, as issues come to the surface, therapists and the psychiatric team partner with the client to gain a better understanding of the traumatic events in their lives and the relationship with the addiction. Together, the team and the client set a comfortable pace so that they have the tools in place to deal with new issues as they arise.

Throughout the process, the client learns healthier ways to cope with triggers to use substances and they gain a toolbox of techniques to use when they leave treatment. The program also connects them with outside therapists and other supports in the community so they can continue their work and sustain their healthy habits when they return home.

Thinking long term

The third aspect of timing is long-term care. An effective program offers ongoing support. With many programs, clients complete the course of therapy and are discharged. We call this “episodic care.” However, at Malibu Beach Recovery Centers we believe treatment should be for life. That is why we don’t “discharge.” Like a primary care physician, we don’t discharge because the symptoms or illness dissipates. Well checks are encouraged long after the symptoms disappear. The value of treatment is a genuinely sustained recovery.

Timing is one of the great determinants of success in life, and the proper timing is especially crucial for female addicts who are looking to break free from what has held them back from success. The best programs ensure that proper timing is part of the recovery.