Trauma Informed Addiction Treatment

One of the biggest factors influencing the development of the field of drug and alcohol services in Ireland today is the emphasis on treatment being ‘trauma informed’ (An Evaluation of Tabor Group, Dr. Jo-Hanna Ivers and Prof. Joe Barry, 2018)

In the HSE Initial and Comprehensive Assessment document, data is currently routinely collected on services users ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’ or ACE.  Tabor Group conducted a small research study on this area in partnership with University College Cork’s Department of Applied Psychology and as well as finding high incidents of dual diagnosis’ particularly ‘anxiety’ and ‘depression’, it found that there was a high prevalence of ACE among clients.

If a person experiences Trauma in their past, it can mean they are vulnerable to being ‘triggered’. If something happens that we find stressful, there is a chance of our coping mechanisms getting overwhelmed. We may then get out of our ‘window of tolerance’ which can lead us to being unable to engage with the demands of daily living effectively.

Occasionally, being in an addiction treatment environment itself can be triggering. Learning about your addiction and coming to terms with it can be challenging. Firstly, we realise there are unwanted consequences that go with addiction that impact us and our loved ones. Secondly, we realise that there is a very strong compulsion to use addictive substances despite these unwanted consequences. While thirdly, we realise that we are using addictive substances in a very ‘out of control’ manner even when they harm us. This addiction process is very well described by Gabor Mate in chapter 11 of ‘In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts’.

To add to the delicacy of the situation, what is becoming abundantly clear is the prevalence of ‘developmental trauma’ among our clients. Developmental trauma refers to the experiences that occurred during the first 30 to 40 months of life, when the child’s personality is ‘developing’. We now know that this development happens primarily in the relationship with the primary carer. Where the primary carer is distracted for any number of reasons and not tuned into the child’s needs, the child will feel he or she must cope with the world too early. With this developmental trauma originating in a past relationship it can easily get triggered in adult relationships.

This illustrates the sensitivity involved in addiction treatment. The service user has very sensitive areas of their experience to investigate in order to understand and come to terms with their addiction. Undergoing this treatment process is, in itself, a very sensitive experience.

This brings us to one of the leading strengths of Tabor Group. Tabor Group’s treatment programmes are delivered by registered addiction counsellors, working with smaller numbers of only 3 or 4 clients. Many counselling and psychotherapy staff are recruited from Munster Technology University and are experts in establishing a therapeutic rapport with clients where good levels of trust are built. This helps reassure our clients that they are in safe hands with Tabor Group, as they seek to come to terms with the difficulties addiction is causing in their life.

Another strength of Tabor Group is the practice of the Twelve Step Programme. In particular, step 1 of the Twelve Step Programme: ‘We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable’. Gabor Mate in chapter 11 of ‘In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts’ suggests the person suffering from addiction has a dilemma called ‘brain lock’ where obsessive and addictive thoughts lead automatically to obsessive and addictive actions. In my experience at Tabor Group, ‘doing a step one’ opens up this brain lock and frees the person from compulsive repetition of the addictive process. The awareness and insight achieved by the treatment process leads to an understanding of the dynamics of addiction and the know-how to stop cooperating with compulsions and, instead, use other skills for managing stressful emotions.

While it is addiction that we treat at Tabor Group, we treat each person with sensitivity and care in a safe and trusting environment, which supports our clients to become free enough of the addiction to develop a recovery lifestyle.

Mick Devine

Clinical Director, Tabor Group


Tabor Group provides residential & community-based addiction treatment programmes to men and woman over 18 years of age, who are struggling with addiction to alcohol, drugs, and gambling.

If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, get help today. We can help you recover in a healthy, friendly environment and beat your addiction. Do not hesitate to contact one of our counsellors today for information by calling +353 (21) 488 7710 or alternatively you can email us at info@taborgroup.ie. We can help you.