Co-occurring Disorders and Trauma-Informed Care
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There are many characteristics of substance abuse that seem to go hand-in-hand. One such pairing is addiction and co-occurring disorders. A co-occurring disorder is a mental health diagnosis such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc., that is present along with the addiction. These are often more common for women, and a third characteristic is often present in these types of situations: trauma. Because of the extra considerations of treating substance abuse and co-occurring disorders, mainly when there has also been a history of trauma, seeking trauma-informed care gives you the best opportunities for effective healing.

Why Co-occurring Disorders Are Common for Women

Having a co-occurring disorder with substance abuse is not uncommon for either gender. Sometimes the mental health issue existed first, and substances were used to self-medicate. Other times, the use of drugs and alcohol may have created or exacerbated a mental health issue such as depression or anxiety. According to data from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) however, 9.6% of women had at least one major depressive episode in the past year, compared with only 6% of the male population.

Because women are more prone to depression and other mental health diagnoses, there is a significantly higher rate of co-occurring disorders in the female substance abuse population. Trauma is a common factor, with considerably higher rates of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other abuse amongst women than their male peers with co-occurring disorders. As trauma can cause both depression or anxiety as well as substance abuse, it seems to be the common factor in the higher rates of co-occurring disorders for women.

The Need to Seek Treatment Simultaneously

Treatment for co-occurring disorders can be challenging because treating only the substance abuse can lead to more severe mental health symptoms. Treating only the mental health disorder means that the substance abuse could worsen, and using substances while taking medications for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or other mental health diagnoses creates significant health risks.

The only way to have a chance at successful treatment is to treat both the substance abuse and mental health diagnosis simultaneously. This also involves therapeutic treatment for trauma, which should be addressed while treating either condition anyway.

The Importance of Women Seeking Trauma-informed Care

The need to address trauma during both substance abuse and mental health treatment calls for trauma-informed care. Women who have suffered traumatic experiences can easily be triggered by even the most seemingly minor things, recreating the trauma in their minds as if it is happening again.

Many women with trauma feel victimized, isolated, marginalized, have low self-worth, cannot trust others, and lack control over their lives. All of these factors need to be considered when offering care to women with trauma. Particularly because many women have suffered abuse, assault, or other trauma from men, sharing a treatment program with men can actually be counterproductive because they can quickly become triggered by their male peers in treatment. Like reopening a wound repeatedly, trauma cannot heal when a woman is continually exposed to a situation where that trauma is triggered. Those risks increase when there is both substance abuse and a co-occurring disorder.

The Five Principles of Trauma-informed Care

Providing trauma-informed care goes well beyond avoiding triggers for women. When addressing the factors involved in trauma, treatment needs to follow the five principles listed here:

  1. Safety – the environment, treatment methods, staff, and program need to help a woman feel safe as she heals.
  2. Choice – when a woman feels like she is not in control of her life, she needs to be offered some choice in her treatment to help her realize that she does have power.
  3. Collaboration – a woman who has been emotionally or physically beaten down or marginalized in her life needs to be allowed the opportunity to collaborate rather than commanded or told what to do.
  4. Trustworthiness – every effort needs to be made to develop trust with a woman who is healing from substance abuse and a co-occurring mental health diagnosis. She will not allow herself to be vulnerable or reconnect with herself or others until she can trust again.
  5. Empowerment – women need to feel empowered in treatment, realizing their self-worth and feeling like they matter.

By following all of the principles of trauma-informed care, women can access the treatment they need to begin healing from both substance abuse and co-occurring mental health diagnoses such as depression or anxiety. Addressing their trauma is key to being able to recover on both fronts.

When women have co-occurring mental health diagnoses along with substance abuse, treatment can become more complicated. Because trauma is a common denominator in the backgrounds of these women, treatment with trauma-informed care becomes quite crucial. At The Ho Tai Way – Recovery For Women, we have created a safe, peaceful refuge for women to heal from substance abuse and potential co-occurring disorders. Our compassionate staff understands trauma, and our trauma-informed programming extends to our support meetings, including our She Recovers meeting for women with any type of addiction. Located between the mountains and the beach in beautiful Southern California, our facility offers the comfort you deserve while giving you the security you need as you learn about recovery. We believe that education is the key to self-awareness, which is the first step in healing. Contact us today at (714) 581-3974 to find out how you can join us to begin your treatment from addiction.