Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that develops in certain individuals who have experienced a traumatic event. The event may be shocking, frightening, violent, or related to a sense of loss, such as the unexpected death of a loved one.
Fear may trigger changes in the body as a natural act of defense against danger, commonly known as the “fight-or-flight” response. The reactions become characterized as PTSD when a person continues to experience fear and stress responses even when not in danger. The range for the expression of PTSD is around 3 months after a traumatic event to years afterward.
Other problems associated with PTSD can include panic disorder, depression, substance abuse, and feeling suicidal. PTSD can be acute or chronic, depending on the nature and duration of the trauma.
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When is it PTSD?
To be diagnosed with PTSD, an adult must have some of the following symptoms for a duration of at least 1 month:
Re-experiencing (must have at least 1)
- Flashbacks — reliving the trauma repeatedly, with physical symptoms such as increased heart rate and sweating
- Bad dreams
- Frightening thoughts
Avoidance (must have at least 1)
- Avoiding places, events, or objects that are reminders of the traumatic experience
- Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event
Arousal and reactivity (must have at least 2)
- Being easily startled
- Feeling tense or on edge; hypervigilance
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Having angry outbursts
- Reckless and self-destructive behaviors
Cognition and mood (must have at least 2)
- Trouble remembering details of the event — not due to injury or being under influence of drugs
- Negative thought patterns about the world and yourself
- Distorted feelings including guilt, blame, and shame
- Loss of interest in activities or normally enjoyable parts of life
Who is at risk for developing PTSD?
Anyone can develop PTSD. Those who suffer commonly include military servicemen and women who have been exposed to combat, children, and people who have experienced assault, abuse, an accident, including natural disasters. The National Center for PTSD estimates that 7 to 8 of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point during their life.
Research has indicated that women more commonly have PTSD than men. Studies have also shown a genetic susceptibility exists that increases your chance for PTSD after trauma.
Having a lack of social support after experiencing trauma can influence the possibility of PTSD. Other risk factors include:
- Living through a traumatic or dangerous event
- Getting physically hurt
- Seeing another person come to harm
- Witnessing a death
- Childhood trauma
- Feelings of extreme fear, helplessness, or horror
- Having a history of substance abuse or mental illness
- Dealing with extreme stress after the traumatic experience, including:
- Loss of a loved one
- Loss of financial stability
Treatment for PTSD
Treatment options for individuals with PTSD currently involve medication, psychotherapy, such as talk therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy, or a combination of these. Every individual is different, and PTSD impacts people differently, so it is extremely important to remember that a treatment working well for one person will not necessarily work for everyone else. This is why we focus on individualized treatment for every client.
Exposure therapy is sometimes an option as well, but the outcome results are often mixed. A newer treatment option called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) has a higher rate of success. To learn more about the best treatment options for you, call us to speak with a knowledgeable wellness professional, who can guide you toward the first step toward treatment.
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A connection to drug abuse
Studies have shown a strong correlation between PTSD and drug or alcohol addiction. A study of more than 30,000 patients based on data by the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions showed that 20% of individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder also suffer from substance abuse issues. The high rates of co-occurrence are often because individuals seek to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Intense flashbacks, rumination and anxiety tied to PTSD can make everyday life difficult without strategies and support to manage symptoms. This is one reason that comprehensive treatment is so important.
Treating PTSD as a co-occurring disorder
The presence of PTSD along with a drug addiction is called a co-occurring disorder which is a core focus of treatment at Sprout facilities. With comprehensive, individualized treatment, our experienced clinicians provide dedicated treatment for both PTSD and addiction. After a personalized assessment, treatment may include medically assisted detox to manage withdrawal symptoms, and will also likely include psychotherapy and behavioral therapy. Your treatment may also include family therapy and experiential therapy, such as yoga, meditation or outdoor therapy. All programs include great attention to aftercare, which helps clients transition seamlessly toward life outside treatment. Each path is individualized to the client for the greatest long-term success.
One of the hardest hurdles to overcome is choosing to help yourself and seek treatment. It is vital to remember that with time and treatment, you can get better.
Some of the steps you can take on your own include:
- Engaging in mild exercise to help reduce stress, such as walking
- Setting small, realistic goals for yourself
- Organizing priorities to reduce stress, and allowing yourself to complete what you can when you are able
- Confiding in friends or family
- Telling others about situations that may be a trigger for you
- Identifying and seeking out comforting situations, places, and people; this is practicing creating healthy boundaries for yourself
Most importantly, try to focus on the idea that symptoms will improve gradually over time. It can be more harmful to set unrealistic expectations for yourself, especially with creating new pressures to automatically be “okay” again.
To take the first step toward treatment, call us to learn about the best path for you based on your unique experience.
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Written By: Sprout Editorial Team
The Sprout Health Group editorial team is passionate about addiction treatment, recovery and mental health issues. Every article is expert-reviewed.