Why do we need treatment programs for youth experiencing trauma and substance use problems?
• By the age of 16, approximately 25% of children and adolescents will have experienced at least one traumatic event (highest of any age group).
• Traumatic stress symptoms and substance abuse in adolescents have been strongly linked (that is, as traumatic stress increases, so do levels of substance use).
• Trauma exposure in youth puts teens at higher risk for later substance abuse, criminal activity, anxiety and other psychological disorders.
Substance use may cause physical, mental, legal, social and other additional problems, while failing to provide any long-term protection from a teen’s trauma-related emotional distress. Traumatic stress can cause individuals to experience severe emotional distress and autonomic arousal, and it is not surprising that in the absence of strong positive coping skills, adolescents who have experienced traumatic events often make maladaptive coping attempts to avoid or mask their distress in a substance-induced state. However, use of substances may cause additional problems for these adolescents (such as difficulties physically, mentally, legally, socially, and more), while failing to provide any long-term protection from their trauma-related emotional distress. In addition, whether previously traumatized or not, substance use puts adolescents at higher risk for trauma exposure; for example, exposure to violence while obtaining substances, engaging in risk-taking behaviors to procure money for drugs, or contact with peers under the influence of substances
There is currently no evidence-based treatment developed specifically for this population of adolescents with comorbid substance abuse and trauma histories, as these adolescents are often not treated, or seen only for substance use problems upon entering the system via disciplinary or medical channels.