The Interplay of Complex Trauma and Substance Abuse

Brad Kammer

19 Posts Published


October 18, 2018


Due to all the political noise in the United States many of us missed something potentially very positive coming out of our government – on October 24, a bipartisan law was signed into effect entitled The Support for Patients and Communities Act (previously titled the Opioid Crisis Response Act).  While some activists believe this bill doesn’t go far enough to treat the widespread Opioid problem in our country, those of us who work with trauma should take notice. 

Embedded within this law are significant sections of a bill that was introduced into the Senate entitled: Trauma-Informed Care for Children and Families Act.  This act does, among other things, create an interagency task force to identify trauma-informed best practices and provides funding for trauma-informed practices in schools.  In addition, it recognizes the link between unresolved early trauma and substance abuse.

For those of us working clinically with complex trauma, we know how many of our clients have dealt with or are dealing with the challenges of substance abuse (and when we refer to substance abuse, we cast a wide net to include eating and other compulsive behaviors that lead to distress and symptoms).  Likewise, there are many drug and alcohol counselors who are working hard to manage the effects of substance abuse who recognize that so many of their clients have dealt with early trauma.  Based on the ACEs study (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and other current research, there is a direct link between unresolved trauma and substance abuse.

The question is, do we have treatments within the mental health and recovery fields that can identify the early trauma and work with the harmful effects, including substance abuse?  So many of us we have been seeking. 

My colleagues and I have been singularly focused on bringing to clinicians and counselors around the world a comprehensive approach for resolving developmental trauma, in the form of the NeuroAffective Relational Model (NARM).  NARM addresses the unresolved psychobiological disruptions that lead to mental health and substance abuse issues.  We use the symptoms – whether mental health or substance-related – as a guide to get to the root of the problem, which is so often based in unrecognized early trauma and neglect.  This therapeutic model has huge implications not only for individuals, but also families, communities, and on a larger scale where we are dealing globally with symptoms of ongoing conflict, injustice and violence. 

The research is clear – unresolved early trauma can disrupt our lives in so many ways.  At the NARM Training Institute, we are excited to be part of this trauma-informed movement that could bring hope and healing to so many people who are currently suffering from wounds often invisible to them – unresolved early trauma.

For more information and training in NARM, please visit our website at: where you can learn about our online and live training opportunities.

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