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"Research shows that it is absolutely possible to recover from trauma and addiction”

Dec 12, 2018 3:15:00 PM

The theme of iCAAD Dublin explores resilience and change and states that “research shows that it is absolutely possible to recover from trauma and addiction”.

Research into the experiences of people exposed to conflict or other related traumatic experiences found that there was a prevalence of physiological health problems and were more likely to have chronic conditions such as pain, for example in their back or stomach anxiety attacks, cardio vascular disease, diabetes and chronic fatigue (Boscarino 2004; NICTT 2009). People who have experienced trauma are aware of the fragility of human connections. The sense of safety in the world or basic trust is, according to Herman (2001), acquired in the earliest life and as this forms the basis of all relationships, when it is broken or damaged the sense of isolation and loss contribute to depression. Depression can be compounded by the use of drugs taken to alleviate anxiety - such as alcohol - so it is unsurprising that depression is often a significant complication ofPTSD. The excessive use or abuse of alcohol and drugs produce similar numbing effects, as traumatised people are unable to spontaneously change the numbing or detachment effect. Dass-Brailsford & Myrick, 2010:203 stated that “… it is not unusual for individuals experiencing trauma to become involved in self destructive behaviours such as substance misuse or self harm as a way to cope and manage unbearable distress.”

In Dublin on the 29th January 2019 we will explore the possibility of resilience and change. We have lined up international trauma expert Judy Crane as well as experts such as Senator Francis Black, Professor Catherine Comiskey of Trinity College and Alex Bunting of Inspire and Addiction NI among others, to discuss the idea that it is absolutely possible to recover from trauma and addiction.

Resilience

Resilience is defined as the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity. Learning to become more resilient can offer individuals the opportunity to improve their life, maximising potential and success.

It is important to recognise the role 'resilience' plays in recovery and understand what resilience is. Prior to Norman Garmezy's research on resilience in relation to recovery from trauma, most research on trauma and negative life events had a reverse focus. Instead of looking at areas of strength, it looked at areas of vulnerability. Often, it looked at the experiences that make people susceptible to poor life outcomes, rather than focusing on the strength and resilience that could occur as a result of the trauma or traumatic experience.

We all possess the same fundamental stress response system which has evolved over millions of years and which we share with animals. The vast majority of people are pretty good at using that system to deal with stress. When it comes to resilience the question is: why do some people use this system so much more frequently or effectively than others? Research shows that a life of active addiction will detract from and derail this in-built stress response system.

Research shows that people can be trained to better regulate their emotions. This is done by changing the way they explain events to themselves. This can be:

From internal to external - "bad events aren't my fault"

From global to specific - "this is one narrow thing rather than a massive indication that something is wrong with my life"

From permanent to impermanent - "I can change the situation rather than assuming that it's fixed.

This can help people be more psychologically successful and less prone to depression. The cognitive skills that underpin resilience can seemingly be learned over time, creating resilience when there may have been none. If adversity is framed as a challenge then people can become more flexible and more likely to deal with it, move on, learn from it and grow.

Recognising and honouring resilience is the key to trauma recovery. Resilience lives in the trauma wound and it can't be fully recognised unless the suffering that caused the wound is embraced.

Research shows that resilience is, ultimately, a set of skills that can be taught and learned and that this can be hugely beneficial for psychological well-being.

Change

The Oxford Dictionary has a variety of definitions of change: (Verb) Make or become different; Move from one to another; Give up or get rid of (something) in exchange for something else. (Noun) An act or process through which something becomes different; The substitution of one thing for another; An alteration or modification; A new or refreshingly different experience. Over the past few years, Ireland has begun the process of change, especially politically. Senator Francis Black, one of our speakers at iCAAD Dublin has been working on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, and campaigning for cancer warnings to be displayed on alcohol products since she was elected to the Seanad in 2016. 34 months or over 1000 days after the bill was introduced in the Seanad, the legislation was finally passed by the Oireachtas in October of this year.

In an interview earlier this year Senator Black said, “I went into politics to make sure that the bill got through in its entirety. We are not trying to make this a nanny state or to ban alcohol.”

"This is really about simple measures: minimum unit pricing, labels on the bottles showing the calorie content and the cancer risks, and to have product separation in the shops so that alcohol isn't beside the nappies and bread as if it was a grocery item."

The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill meant the introduction of minimum unit pricing; structural segregation of alcohol from other products in supermarkets and retail outlets; detailed labelling requirements including health warnings, calorie and alcohol content; and restrictions on advertising and promotions.

Last February, the Irish health minister, Simon Harris said that with this bill, the Government is for the first time endeavouring as an Oireachtas to address alcohol as a public health matter.

The passing of this bill demonstrates Ireland’s commitment to change and is deserving celebration.

We hope you will join us in a celebration of Resilience and Change at iCAAD Dublin on the 29th January 2019.


 

References

Kate Campbell: Eastern Trauma Advisory Panel. Trauma, Alcohol and Drug Comorbidity

Jeff van Reenen MSc MFDAP: Resilience in recovery from addiction and trauma

 

More info on iCAAD Dublin

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Please note: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of iCAAD / Optimal-i Ltd which is a neutral platform.

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