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Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): An Overview

PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder

Once called battle fatigue syndrome or shell shock, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health disorder. The condition can develop after a person experiences or witnesses a terrifying or traumatic event that is life-threatening or causes serious physical harm. Examples of events that can cause PTSD include combat, natural disaster, war, physical assault, sexual assault, a vehicle accident, abuse, or the unexpected, sudden death of a loved one. 

Trauma Does Not Always Result in PTSD

During and after a traumatic event, it is natural to feel fear. Feeling afraid triggers the body’s automatic fight-or-flight response, preparing the body to protect itself. After an intense experience, almost everyone will experience an array of reactions and emotions, such as nervousness, anger, fear, shock, and guilt. 

In most cases, with time and good self-care, individuals recover from their experience naturally. However, those who continue to feel intense stress months and years after the event has passed may be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Signs and Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder 

According to The National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of PTSD generally begin within three months of the trauma. However, there have been cases of post-traumatic stress disorder in which symptoms did not begin until years after the traumatic event occurred. Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • At least one re-experiencing symptom: These symptoms include flashbacks (repeatedly reliving the trauma), frightening thoughts, or bad dreams. A person’s daily routine is often affected by re-experiencing symptoms. These symptoms can be triggered by the person’s feelings or thoughts, situations, objects, or words that remind the person of the event. 
  • At least one avoidance symptom: These symptoms include avoiding feelings or thoughts about the traumatic experience and staying away from events, places, or objects that remind the person of the event. Avoidance symptoms can be triggered by anything that reminds the individual of the trauma. These symptoms often cause a person to change their routine.
  • At least two cognition and mood symptoms: These symptoms include having negative thoughts about the world or oneself, loss of interest in doing things they once enjoyed, overwhelming feelings of shame or guilt, and difficulty remembering important aspects of the traumatic event. Experiencing these symptoms makes the person feel detached or alienated from their family and friends.
  • At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms: These symptoms include feeling on edge or tense, being startled easily, having angry outbursts, or having difficulty sleeping. Arousal and reactivity symptoms are not triggered by reminders of the traumatic experience; instead, they are nearly constant. They make it difficult to do everyday tasks, such as concentrating, eating, or sleeping. The person may often feel angry and stressed.

Post-traumatic stress disorder varies from one person to another. Some people recover completely in a few months, while others may experience symptoms for years.

Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Common?

About 5.2 million people in the United States have post-traumatic stress disorder in a given year. It is estimated that at some point during their lives, 7.8 million people in the United States will develop PTSD. A person can develop the disorder at any age. Even children can develop PTSD. The fact that more women develop post-traumatic stress disorder than men may be because women are more likely victims of abuse, rape, and domestic violence.

PTSD and Addiction

People struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder often feel hopeless, frustrated, and angry. Sometimes they turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their feelings. About 46%, or almost half, of people with PTSD, also suffer from drug or alcohol addiction. This is called a co-occurring disorder.

While substances may seem to relieve PTSD symptoms, they only create more problems. For example, people with post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorder often have more physical and mental health issues, an increased risk of violence, more legal and financial problems, poorer social functioning, poorer treatment outcomes, and higher rates of suicide attempts. 

Get the Help You Need

A chronic brain disease, addiction can affect anyone. If you or someone you care about struggles with an addiction to drugs or alcohol or addiction in conjunction with post-traumatic stress disorder, help is available. Contact Anabranch Recovery Center in Terre Haute, Indiana, and learn how our skilled professionals can help you take back control of your life. 

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