Trauma is an unavoidable aspect of human life. Lately, its role in the emotional experience, particularly in how it relates to addiction, is becoming increasingly recognized in the collective awareness. Since trauma is not limited to sexual abuse or violence, but rather any experience that overwhelms the emotional system to the point where it cannot reset appropriately, it is not surprising that our culture’s struggles with addiction are spiraling out of control. Effective addiction treatment necessitates the integration of trauma-sensitive approaches. Treatment modalities such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic experiencing, and psychodrama address the adverse effect trauma has on emotional regulation and body connection.

In his book, The Body Keeps the Score, trauma pioneer Bessel van der Kolk highlights the challenge of dealing with trauma as such: “Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves” (Kolk 97).

When we turn to drugs, alcohol, or process addictive behaviors to calm us down from distressing emotions, we are creating powerful neural pathways in the brain that lead to addiction. Therefore, we believe that any attempt to treat addiction without addressing the issue of trauma will be less than optimally effective. Until we have incorporated modalities that directly address the neurophysiological dysregulation our clients experience, we have failed to adequately equip them for long-term recovery.

As my mentor Bob Beare says, “Twelve-step recovery, trauma resolution, and community-based healing represent the gold standard in treating addiction.” Alpha 180 offers trauma-informed clinical treatment, solid 12-step guidance and programming, and an inspired community of like-minded peers. By integrating a trauma-sensitive lens with these other pivotal components, Alpha 180 provides a transformative healing experience for the young men we serve. Each day we find our courageous young students willing to get vulnerable, dive into uncomfortable emotional places, and support one another on this challenging but amazing journey of recovery and discovery.

About the Author

JC Shakespeare, LPC-S has worked for over a decade in schools, treatment centers, IOP programs and in private practice, delivering compassionate counseling through a trauma-informed lens. JC believes that the human emotional system holds the key to healing and recovery; learning to identify, connect with, and regulate emotions leads to resilience and clarity. Through modes of treatment like EMDR, somatic psychotherapy, and mindfulness JC helps clients unblock old emotional pain and enter into a more vibrant, connected sense of self. JC has lived in Austin for 25 years. He has three daughters, and enjoys writing, bad golf and good movies.