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Seeking Safety for PTSD and Substance Use

Seeking Safety for PTSD and Substance Use

Seeking Safety for PTSD and Substance Use 2608 2806 se_admin

Teens who have experienced trauma are more likely to turn to substance use to cope with symptoms of PTSD. Traumatic experiences contribute to a hypervigilant view of the world where teens struggle with emotional pain, trusting others, and feeling a sense of belonging and security. Substance use may numb the pain, but is not an effective way of addressing traumatic experiences. While teens may struggle with verbally re-processing traumatic events, therapeutic approaches, like Seeking Safety, helps teens develop healthier coping skills to manage impulsive behaviors related to PTSD and substance use.  

Understanding Process Addictions 

Addiction is a disease of disconnect that makes teens feel isolated from their families and the world around them. Teens have to relearn what a healthy relationship looks like, beginning with the support of mentors and their peers struggling with similar issues.

Many teens minimize the impact of their behavior as “normal teen things” or romanticize their lifestyle when they begin to look at their unhealthy behaviors. When they stop relying on substances or other addictive behaviors, they may believe that their problems have been resolved.

Most process addictions,  like self-harm, disordered eating, unhealthy relationships, and technology addiction, are developed as ways to cope with traumatic stress and serve a purpose in teen’s lives, which explains how they become attached to these behaviors. When teens begin to recognize how their unhealthy behaviors were their way of coping with situations and meeting certain needs, they feel empowered to look for alternative ways of reducing the void they feel, rather than just filling it. They have to detach from their impulsive behaviors before they can attach to the solutions treatment offers.”

PTSD and Substance Use: Using A Process Addiction Model 

While other residential treatment centers for teens who struggle with substance use follow a model focused on behavioral change, our trauma-informed approach for teens who struggle with substance use acknowledges that addictive behaviors result from underlying emotional issues and learning processes. Using substances is just one symptom of addiction. When you take substances away, there are so many other underlying issues that reinforce unhealthy coping mechanisms. This is why addiction therapy is just one element of our program

Solstice East uses a Seeking Safety model, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, motivational interviewing, and group therapy to help educate teens about the impact of process addictions, encourage open discussions about attachment issues and impulsive behaviors. As the needs of young girls are different from those of adults and one addictive behavior can easily be replaced by new addictions, we focus on addressing underlying issues, not just problem behaviors.

Rather than focusing on the consequences of self-medicating negative emotions, Seeking Safety helps teens identify risky situations, develop healthier relationships, use positive coping mechanisms, and learn how to ask for help, which empowers them to make different choices.

Goals of Seeking Safety:


  • Setting boundaries in relationships includes learning how to communicate your needs, understanding consent, and determining levels of intimacy with people in their lives. This involves learning how to say no and how to stand up for oneself.
  • Healing from Anger. Many teens who have experienced trauma have held on to a lot of anger and resentment or blamed themselves for their experiences. A lot of them learned from people in their lives that it was normal to turn to particular coping mechanisms, even if they did not serve them in the long-run. 
  • Showing more compassion towards themselves and others. Regardless of how teens chose to cope with their distress in the past, this model acknowledges that their brain was doing the best it could to keep them safe from the overwhelming pain they experienced. This helps teens let go of self-judgment and validate their experience. 
  • Grounding refers to focusing on sensations, surroundings, and positive memories to help teens when they feel overwhelmed. Traumatic memories can trigger dissociation that takes people away from the present moment and induces cravings to turn to addictive behaviors to cope. Grounding re-establishes a sense of safety.


Solstice East Can Help 

Solstice East is a residential treatment center for young women ages 14-18 struggling with process addictions, substance use, and trauma. This program helps young women detach from unhealthy coping mechanisms by integrating healthy habits into their lives. Students learn to cope with emotions, communicate effectively, form healthy relationships, and build confidence. Their holistic approach acknowledges that addiction is only one piece of the puzzle to be addressed in order to help girls succeed in multiple areas of their lives. 

For more information about addiction programming at Solstice East, call (855) 672-7058.