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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder affects many adults and can lead to substance abuse. Learn more about PTSD and its symptoms, and how to treat it.

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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD

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What is PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops when someone has experienced a traumatic event. According to, PTSD affects about 3.5 percent of American adults each year. Out of 100 people, seven or eight will experience PTSD at some point in their lifetime, according to the National Center for PTSD.

However, these statistics could actually be much higher, considering that some people may not seek treatment for PTSD.

What Causes PTSD

PTSD can develop at any age and is more commonly diagnosed in women than men. PTSD develops as a result of a traumatic event or any occurrence where the individual believes themselves to be at risk of harm or death.

Not everyone with PTSD has been through a traumatic event themselves. Some people develop PTSD when witnessing or hearing about a loved one experiencing a traumatic event. In addition to this, the unexpected death of a loved one can also result in PTSD.

Some things that may contribute to the development of PTSD include:
  • Experiencing a dangerous and traumatic event such as:
    • Physical or sexual assault during childhood or as an adult
    • Being involved in an accident
    • Being in a warzone
    • Natural disasters
    • Acts of terrorism
    • The death of a loved one
    • Being injured
  • Seeing another person being hurt or seeing a dead body
  • Childhood trauma
  • Having little or no support after the event
  • Dealing with extra stress after the event, including job loss, death of a loved one, or divorce
  • Having a history of mental illness and/or substance abuse

Not everyone who experiences trauma will go on to develop PTSD. Ways of lowering the risk of developing PTSD include:

  • Getting help in the form of therapy and support immediately after a traumatic event
  • Talking to a trusted friend or family member about what happened
  • Finding a support group
  • Developing a positive coping strategy

Symptoms of PTSD

Many, but not all, people who have experienced trauma will develop short-term symptoms of PTSD. Symptoms usually manifest within three months but can even begin as late as one year after the traumatic event.

For symptoms to be attributed to PTSD, they must last longer than a month and must be severe enough to interfere with work, relationships, and everyday activities.

Symptoms of PTSD, if experienced for at least one month, include:
  • At least one re-experiencing symptom. Re-experiencing can occur as a result of a word, object, or person triggering a flashback. Symptoms of re-experiencing include:
    • Flashbacks – reliving the trauma repeatedly, which can result in physical symptoms such as rapid heart rate or sweating
    • Nightmares
    • Fearful, paranoid thoughts as if the incident is currently occurring
  • At least one avoidance symptom. Avoidance symptoms occur when the person who has PTSD avoids activities or situations that remind them of the traumatic event. For example, if the person was in a motor vehicle accident, they will avoid driving or being in a vehicle. Avoidance symptoms include:
    • Staying away from and actively avoiding places, people, objects, and activities that remind them of the traumatic event
  • At least two arousal and reactivity symptoms. These symptoms are usually constant and are not triggered by anything – even places, people, or situations that are related to the traumatic event. Arousal and reactivity symptoms can interfere with daily life and can be a source of stress and anger. Symptoms include:
    • Feeling edgy and tense
    • Being easily startled
    • Difficulty sleeping
    • Having angry outbursts
    • Inability to cope with normal everyday stress
  • At least two cognition and mood symptoms. These may begin immediately or soon after the event. Symptoms include:
    • Feeling alienated or detached from friends and family members even if surrounded by supportive people
    • Trouble remembering details of the traumatic event
    • Feeling guilty or to blame, even undeservedly
    • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities

It is natural to have a range of these kinds of emotions and symptoms for a few weeks after a traumatic event. To be diagnosed as PTSD, these symptoms need to persist for longer than a month and must seriously hinder the person’s ability to function.

The symptoms must also occur outside of any medical illness or substance abuse.

PTSD and Substance Abuse

Some individuals develop a problem with using drugs or alcohol to soothe the symptoms of PTSD. After a traumatic event, the brain may produce fewer endorphins than before. Endorphins are responsible for feelings of happiness and contentment.

To counteract this, someone with PTSD may turn to using drugs or alcohol to relieve feelings of depression and anxiety.

Prolonged drug and alcohol abuse can lead to addiction. It is crucial to treat co-occurring addiction and PTSD simultaneously. A good inpatient rehabilitation facility will have the means to treat drug and alcohol addiction alongside PTSD.

Seeking help immediately after a traumatic event is vital in preventing the person from turning to drugs or alcohol as a means of coping with PTSD symptoms.

Treatment for PTSD

The primary treatment types for people with PTSD include medications, psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy), and often both.

Everyone is different and requires personalized treatment options for the nuances of their mental illness. It is important for anyone who has experienced a traumatic event to seek help from a mental health provider who specializes in treating patients with PTSD.

Medications for PTSD Treatment

The primary medication used in the treatment of PTSD is antidepressants. Antidepressants may help manage PTSD symptoms like depression, worry, anger, and feeling numb.

In some cases, anti-anxiety medication may be prescribed. Sleep difficulties resulting from PTSD may be treated with prescription sleeping pills.

The doctor will work closely with the PTSD patient to find the best medication or combination of medications, to treat the symptoms of PTSD.

Psychotherapy as PTSD Treatment

Psychotherapy is a form of talk therapy that involves conversing with a mental health professional about experiences, feelings, and symptoms. Psychotherapy can be done on an individual basis or in a group setting.

Some types of psychotherapy will involve active involvement from the therapist in order to help coach and guide the patient toward better coping mechanisms and life skills.

Psychotherapy for PTSD treatment can last between six and 12 weeks but sometimes continues for longer, depending on the person and their needs.

Psychotherapy is used to treat PTSD by helping the patient:
  • Learn about trauma and its effects
  • Learn ways to self-soothe, and how to relax
  • Learn to control their anger and outbursts
  • Identify and deal with guilt, fear, shame, and all feelings about the event
  • Learn better sleep, dietary, and exercise habits
  • Learn how to face triggers and overcome them

One of the primary types of psychotherapy used in PTSD treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT offers a hands-on, practical approach to helping the individual recognize negative feelings and destructive behaviors, and learning better coping skills.

Because of this, CBT will also be used to treat PTSD that co-occurs with substance abuse.

Get Help for PTSD

It is normal to feel afraid and traumatized after a traumatic situation. However, when these feelings last longer than a month and interfere with daily life, it is important to seek help.

At Addiction Rehab Treatment, we are able to guide you in the right direction if you need to get help for PTSD. One of our caring treatment navigators will talk to you about your symptoms and needs and help you find the right facility.

We are also specialists in assisting individuals with mental illness that co-occurs with substance abuse. Get in touch with us today so that we can help you.

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