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The Trauma-Addiction Connection

By Comments off By the Numbers: The Trauma-Addiction Connection

Leading-edge treatment providers are pioneering solutions that address trauma.

An old associate of mine who had many years of experience in the addiction recovery field used to say, “90 percent of all the women and 40 percent of the men who come through chemical dependency treatment have significant trauma. The only difference is that the women are more honest about it.” Our field is finally starting to recognize what I believe will drive treatment modalities in the future: that trauma goes hand-in-hand with addiction, and effective addiction treatment must address that underlying trauma from a therapeutic perspective.

Solutions to Trauma and Addiction

Many treatment providers are breaking new ground in this innovative and effective approach. One provider that’s leading the effort is The Meadows in Wickenburg, Ariz. Pia Mellody’s model combines chemical dependency treatment with the recognition and resolution of trauma over a 45-day experience that’s an effective and unique modality of therapy.

The Meadows model spends some effort in educating individuals in exactly what trauma is. Most people recognize the “Big T” trauma of a house burning down, physical, emotional or mental abuse, a car accident, military combat and other major life events and experiences. Less recognized is what Pia refers to as “Little T” trauma: less than perfectly nurturing events in our lives that we adapt to and that become maladaptive as adults. After hearing Pia’s presentation at a workshop, I approached her and said, “Pia, that means just about every human being has trauma that needs to be resolved.” She grinned and said, “Yes.”

My Experience: A Solution That Works

Although I was initially skeptical of Pia’s approach, I decided to pursue this modality in doing my own work with trauma. I worked with a local therapist, Alan Braverman who is trained by Pia Mellody and The Meadows. One of the tricky parts of trauma work is recognizing just what has been traumatic in our lives. It’s not about inventing trauma for ourselves. It’s more about recognizing our reactions to past experiences and how that plays out ineffectively in our adult life.

Resolution can be achieved through debriefing and feeling reduction techniques. It’s also opened my eyes to recognizing trauma in clients. I’ve experienced the effectiveness of this type of approach first-hand. After more than two decades in recovery and several experiences in therapy, the work I’ve done with my own trauma over the past three years has made the biggest difference to my own effectiveness—particularly involving relationships—than anything else I’ve done.

Key Partners in Addiction-Trauma Work

Recently we’ve formed an alliance with Dan Griffin, a Minnesota sociologist who is paving new ground in the recognition of men’s trauma. Dan points out that, growing up, many men are taught that we need to solve our own problems, that we shouldn’t be vulnerable and that we shouldn’t show emotions. And then faced with having to overcome addiction we are told the opposite: that we can’t solve this on our own, that we must ask for help, that we must be vulnerable and that we must have emotional honesty. Through our work with Dan, I’ve recognized how the recovery community and treatment experience itself can trigger the trauma many men experienced as a child in being told to suppress or deny their emotions.

Thanks in part to our partnerships with these innovators in addiction recovery and mental health, we at Marc Hertz Consulting and FRrē recognize the need for a greater awareness of how addiction and trauma are intertwined. And a large part of our mission is developing treatment and recovery paths that are more trauma-informed.

—Marc Hertz founded Family Recovery Resource Experts with a passion for helping not just the individual suffering from addiction or mental health issues, but his or her family as well.

Worried about whether trauma is a part of your loved one’s chemical use? Contact us at or schedule a consultation with one of our specialists.