Addiction Treatment, Trauma, and the Role of Technology

Addiction Treatment, Trauma, and the Role of Technology

For the last few decades, the role of trauma has been ignored in shaping addiction treatment. It fell out of favor with the development of managed care. However, more recently, a resurgence of interest in focusing on trauma in addiction treatment has occurred. Many believe, and logic would support such beliefs, that trauma often underlies the cause of an addiction.

In an attempt to analyze and explain the unrelenting pattern of treatment and relapse, one can look to unacknowledged and untreated trauma. We all know that addiction treatment is more than “just say NO,” without supportive therapies. Study after study has demonstrated that after a traumatic event people resort to a variety of coping mechanisms—alcohol or drug use are two of them.

Studies of children who suffered abuse (physical, sexual, emotional) often go on as adults to be involved in other abusive relationships. New brain studies are examining the changes in animal brains associated with trauma and behavior. Untreated, trauma mounts on top of trauma and emotional, intellectual, mental, physical, and spiritual health deteriorates. The National Institute of Mental Health has a list of incidents that are associated with PTSD:

  • Rape
  • Torture
  • Kidnapping
  • Natural Disasters
  • Muggings/Physical threats
  • Accidents
  • Abuse (emotional, mental, physical)
  • Witnessing a violent event

In the study, Design Strengths and Issues of SAMHSA’s Women…. (Psychiatr Serv. 2005 Oct;56(10):1233-6) researchers examined the design, cost, and outcomes of trauma-informed programs for women with a history of violence, substance abuse and mental health disorders. After 12 months the women in the intervention group maintained and continued to improve in all three areas related to drug use, mental health and trauma outcomes. Since 2005, more studies illustrate the need to address trauma in addiction treatment. Technology can help individualize trauma and addiction treatment.

Technology Helps Deliver Addiction and Trauma Therapies

Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy allows patients and therapists to address trauma. These therapies utilize the technology and virtual art to confront and address past trauma. These games go beyond relying on only imagination and can make the environment appear real. The army has been using virtual reality games to ready soldiers for certain types of missions. However, these virtual techniques are best used in the hands of trained therapists. Yet, the use of virtual art and games opens the realm of altering cognitive behavior, rewards, conditioning, the development of coping mechanism and life skills—all perfect for addiction treatment protocols.

A researcher at Duke University, funded by NIDA, has been employing a methodology called virtual reality cue reactivity. In his lab and others like it, the environment has sights, sounds, and smells that make a virtual environment feel real. Participants, drug addicts, are provided with virtual realities that trigger reactions. These reactions are monitored. Taking the data from those studies, as well as the studies conducted by the Armed Forces, other programs, both virtual and mobile, have been developed that can be utilized in treatment centers. Addicts safely learn strategies for dealing with these real life situations, triggers, cravings, anxiety and other emotional conundrums.

According to the Government’s Drug and Health blog: “Research shows that when recovering people develop strategies to avoid relapse in a virtual world, they are able to take those strategies and use them in real-world situations.”

Technology Can Make Treating Addiction and Trauma Cost Effective

The need to treat trauma is real if the addiction industry is going to alter the terrifying outcomes that are commonly associated with treatment today. Technology does not replace a group, a therapist or any of the other components that are considered best practices. However, technology offers both therapists and clients a way to keep treatment going on an experiential, mental, emotional, and physical level in a way that was not possible 15 years ago.

Recovery Passport Solutions is part of this movement that takes technology and utilizes it in addiction treatment. The profound impact of this use of technology can alter the outcomes of patients in early recovery.


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