At Crossroad Back Cove, a halfway house for women recovering from alcohol and drug addiction in Portland, Maine, women in early recovery are learning a special set of skills. Developed by Lisa Najavits, PhD, Seeking Safety is an evidenced-based practice designed to help women with a substance abuse problem and postraumatic stress disorder [PTSD] acquire the skills and stability they need to rebuild their lives.
The connection between PTSD and addiction is strong. It is estimated that as many as 30-59% of women who are addicted to alcohol and other drugs carry a diagnosis of PTSD. PTSD, like addiction, is quite treatable. The difficulty is when both disorders occur together. Many people have learned to use alcohol and other drugs to treat the symptoms of their PTSD. When someone’s addiction becomes so problematic that they enter into a program of recovery, their PTSD symptoms often come back and feel unbearable, so relapse to alcohol and drug use is especially high.
The Seeking Safety skills group is one of many supports available to women who are living at Crossroads Back Cove, including group and individual counseling, 12 Step meetings (AA and NA), case management, vocational rehabilitation, work, school, recreation and psychiatry services. In the Seeking Safety skills group, women are educated about PTSD and addiction and how both disorders interact with each other. They are taught basic coping skills to deal with the anxiety symptoms, such as grounding, asking for help and changing negative thoughts, and they make commitments to practice safe coping skills each week. This format is especially helpful in reducing shame and fear for women who have never understood why they couldn’t stay sober before.