Trauma behind the drug addiction
Mai Peltoniemi, Social worker, President of the Finnish Association for Trauma and Dissociation
5 February 2018
Drug addiction is usually seen as a threat to society. In Finland drug addiction is mostly treated from the harm reduction point of view. Instead of treating people properly we are investing resources for substitute treatments to keep the addicts out of sight. Substitute treatment in Finland is often given to the young people who have started the drug use buying those same substitute drugs from the street. Drug addicts are unwanted and often seen and treated as a criminals. Using illegal drugs usually leads to convictions and prison instead of treatment.
I am a social worker in the field of drug abuse and I´m also an expert by experience what comes to drug addiction and recovery. Drug problem is seen as your own fault. What I am proposing here is to take a closer look in to the matter. Who are these people and what do we as a citizens or as a professionals think about them? Or do we think about them at all? Is it our concern how they are coping with life? Should we as social workers, as therapists or just as citizens give this a deeper thought?
I have created a model of therapeutic community for drug addicts that works in the housing services. Our model of therapeutic community gives structure and a safe environment to learn new social skills in the framework of transactional analysis. This treatment lasts for a year and it is based on the hierarchical Daytop-model. Understanding the traumas these people live with is the key for successful treatment and recovery. Most importantly we have to pay attention to emotional traumas the addicts have been subjected to in the early stages of their life, before we put them into a jail. What have they learned about the world, themselves and the other? What are those early beliefs that need to be changed in order for recovery being possible? “Can I trust others?” “Do I have a value and am I OK and enough as just being myself?” “Is the world a good place?” It is very common there exists this kind of negative beliefs which tell the story of an unsafe childhood environment and emotional trauma. These beliefs need to be reversed. Treatment is to proof those to be wrong. Treatment provides proof of some remedial new believes and values. Fixing these false beliefs is hard work for everybody, but in our community we are actively fixing the trauma related beliefs and eventually making new lives possible. Drugs are mostly used as self medication and the emotional trauma is the reason for that inner pain or emptiness they are using drugs for. We really should be interested in why did they start to use drugs in the first place. No one starts to use drugs by accident. It may seem like a random coincident of course, but it doesn´t happen by chance.
Photograph by Teagan Mierle via Unsplash
Therapeutic community as a method sees people behind drugs and challenging behaviour patterns. That is something all the people suffering and recovering from traumas should have. To be more than their symptoms. We should see this and fight for the proper ethical treatment for these people who are traumatised and as a consequense of this they are not able to handle their life without chemical regulation of emotions. We need to teach skills that enable cooperation and with addicts the only possibility is to be seen trustworthy, real and equal as a human being. For professionals there is absolutely no room for the attitude of superiority.  
” I believe that there is a lot of potential in the frames of therapeutic communities, traditionally planned for drug addicts, have the potential also be a life changing treatment for people suffering complex emotional traumas and divided personality. ”
The small therapeutic community I´m working in has had a good impact in people living there. After a year of finishing the treatment 100% of the recoveries (17 persons) have told that their lives have changed for the better. No one is using drugs anymore. They are working, studying and stabilizing their life. Many have continued in psychotherapy. I have worked with addicts for years and have seen the unbelievable power of therapeutic community as a method, when it contains a high degree of consciousness about emotional trauma behind the addiction. In therapeutic communities there are only members, not patients. We have different roles in the community, but as co-equals we all are teaching each other and growing as individuals but also as a family. I believe that there is a lot of potential in the frames of therapeutic communities, traditionally planned for drug addicts, have the potential also be a life changing treatment for people suffering complex emotional traumas and divided personality. Therapeutic community is cost-efficient, comprehensive, highly ethical and human method, but it demands a lot of passion and commitment from all members. Someone has first believed in me and gave me hope for having a value as a human being. Not just a junkie who is failing with her life. So I started to believe myself and finding a new path for my life of recovering not only from the addiction but the emotional traumas. Today I see clearly the connection of addiction and emotional trauma. By treating the trauma with the structures of a therapeutic community addiction is also healed.



In our next blog Anssi Leikola, who is a psychiatrist, therapist, writer and a trauma survivor addresses the meaning of hope in his article: “Hope at the Doctor´s Office”.


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