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Currents - Sept./Oct. 2012 - NASW-NYC's 44th Annual Addictions Institute - Confronting a Powerful Co
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NASW-NYC’s 44th Addictions Institute

Confronting a Powerful Combination: Trauma and Addiction


Keynote speaker Lisa M. Najavits, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine

This year’s Addictions Institute, which drew, 395 practitioners on June 6, featured keynote speaker Lisa M. Najavits, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine. Dr. Najavits is the author of Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manual for PTSD and Substance Abuse.

The title of her address was “Numbing the Pain: PTSD and Substance Abuse”.

Dr. Najavits began her presentation by underscoring that co-occurring disorders are likely to involve a whole host of conditions, citing poverty and racism in particular. She said that available data shows that 52% of men with PTSD abuse alcohol while 35% abuse drugs. For women with PTSD, the percentages are 28% and 27%.

Turning to alcohol and drugs can both help a person with PTSD access feelings or memories, or help them shut them off. She pointed out that achieving abstinence does not mean the PTSD has gone away; it can result in a flooding of overwhelming emotions.

She said that, ironically, people with both PTSD and addiction are more likely to have their addiction treated than their trauma.

Dr. Najavits reviewed a variety of ways in which PTSD could be treated, including methods that are low cost and do not necessarily require professional intervention. For example, a focus on how to seek safety, understanding what safety might look like in comparison to danger can be effective across settings and with people with different backgrounds and language skills. She said that safety is a deep theme.


Left: 395 attendees at the 44th Annual Addictions Institute listen to the keynote address by Dr. Lisa M. Najavits during the plenary session. Right: Elder Taz Eaglewoman McGillis, also a workshop presenter, gives an aboriginal blessing acknowledging trauma and to help begin the healing process.


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