When you are involved in a potentially life-threatening situation, or witness one, your body reacts in a fight-or-flight manner. You experience a physical and emotional reaction including a rapid heartbeat, sweating, and a rush of certain chemicals in your brain. These responses are designed to help you survive, and oftentimes after a traumatic event they can linger. When these feelings remain for a long period of time surpassing a few weeks, they can develop into post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
What is PTSD?
According the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 7.7 million adults in the US suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. As a mental health disorder, PTSD can occur at any age after being the victim of or witness to a terrifying, tragic, or traumatic event. Usually these traumas involve physical harm or the threat of physical harm that is believed to be life-threatening. Someone suffering from PTSD usually relives the incident over and over again and may feel frightened or afraid long after the threat has passed. PTSD symptoms can range from mild to severe and can inhibit normal social interactions and wreak havoc on a family.
Symptoms of PTSD generally fall into three main categories: avoidance, re-experiencing, and hyperarousal. Avoidance symptoms include any form of attempting to avoid reminders of the incident while re-experiencing symptoms can interfere with daily life by triggering unsettling memories and thoughts without warning. Hyperarousal symptoms are defined by high levels of anxiety and are typically consistent as opposed to needing a triggering event or memory to bring them on.
PTSD symptoms are numerous and can include:
- Emotional numbness
- Loss of interest in things previously interested in
- Guilt and/or shame
- Short-term memory loss
- Episodes of rage and aggression
- Trouble sleeping
- Being easily startled
- Feeling constantly on edge
- Frightening thoughts
- Feelings of isolation and detachment
- Trouble concentrating
- Feelings of being disconnected from oneself and others
Sometimes it takes a few weeks or even months for PTSD to manifest. In order for a diagnosis of PTSD to be made, symptoms must persist for at least a period of one month.
Causes of PTSD
PTSD is commonly associated with military veterans who have witnessed atrocities in war. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that as many as 30 percent of Vietnam veterans suffer from PTSD. Veterans from the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars develop PTSD 11 to 20 percent of the time, and PTSD occurs in around 10 percent of Gulf War veterans.
Soldiers and veterans are not the only ones to suffer from PTSD, however. Anyone who is involved in or witness to an accident, terror attack, kidnapping, natural disaster, or violent assault can be affected. According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, of those experiencing a major trauma, 14 to 25 percent develop PTSD.
So why do some people develop PTSD after a trauma and others don’t? PTSD may affect certain regions of the brain as well as some of the brain’s messengers or neurotransmitters. Researchers are looking at the amygdala, which is responsible for the fear response and may be hyperactive in someone suffering from PTSD. The hippocampus, which is responsible for the formation of memories, may experience a loss of volume due to PTSD while neurotransmitter production may be disrupted. Some people may have different chemical or physical makeups in these parts of their brains, which may predispose them to disorders like PTSD.
Other risk factors may play a role in the development of PTSD as well. These factors include:
- History of mental illness
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of social support
- Previous trauma
- Other stressful life changes
Someone who experiences a trauma coupled with another major life change or stressor within a close period of time, or someone who has experienced a trauma in their past, may have a harder time coping, which can lead to PTSD. Someone with a positive family and/or social support network is less likely to develop the disorder down the line. It is important to understand that many factors may play a role in who develops PTSD and why.
When to get help
PTSD can be difficult to understand, and at times, it can be very difficult to encourage someone to seek help. Those suffering tend to pull away and may even deny that there is a problem. Feelings of isolation can be overwhelming.
It is important to seek help as early as possible as early intervention can be the key to success. Anger and aggression can quickly escalate to episodes of violence, and feelings of guilt, shame and helplessness may lead to a downward spiral of depression and suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Sufferers of a trauma often develop forms of depression, which may overlap with or co-occur with PTSD. As many as 26 percent of those involved in a major traumatic event will develop depression, per the American Journal of Psychiatry. Both depression and PTSD can increase the risk for suicidal behavior. If you suspect suicidal tendencies, get professional help immediately.
Many times those suffering from PTSD will look to self-medicate and escape via drugs or alcohol. Drugs or alcohol may seem to offer much desired relief from PTSD symptoms and memories, and these substances may serve to temporarily numb the pain. All too often this behavior can lead to a substance abuse disorder or addiction which can greatly complicate treatment and lead to exacerbated symptoms. Substance abuse can actually increase anxiety and depression and may lead to an increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
Many types of therapies exist to treat PTSD; however, psychotherapy is the most widely accepted form of care. One form of psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, helps patients understand what may trigger their symptoms and how to manage them. Exposure therapy is often used to treat PTSD; this therapy exposes the person to their trauma in a safe manner through both direct and indirect exposure to help them overcome their fear. Therapists may use images, writing, or even visits to the location of the trauma as tools to help patients confront their fears. At times, medication is necessary to regulate brain chemistry as well. Family support and group therapy can be vital to helping to create a positive support system.
Co-occurring disorders, like PTSD and substance abuse disorder, require focused care in order to be treated effectively. Treatment should be simultaneous, with all medical professionals on the same page and working toward the same end result.
The Recovery Village focuses on treating the whole person through specialized treatment plans. Recreational therapy can also be a useful way to alleviate stress and anxiety brought on by PTSD, and it is just one of the many special services offered here at The Recovery Village. Highly credentialed staff members are on hand to offer the right type of progressive treatment for each person and situation.
PTSD can be effectively managed with proper treatment, therapy, and support. Call today for a comprehensive evaluation with a trained professional, and take your life back.
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PTSD, which stands for post-traumatic stress disorder, has become one of the most common acronyms in circulation. As the National Institute on Mental Health describes PTSD, sufferers experience fear and anxiety in situations that would not cause other people to have that response. For instance, a person who experienced a car accident may feel fear at the sound of an approaching car, even though that car presents no risk of danger.
At The Recovery Village, our team of mental health experts combines years of experience in PTSD treatment with our philosophy to treat clients holistically. In addition to treating PTSD, we provide services that help sufferers to rebuild confidence in living life free from unnecessary fear, anxiety, and stress.
We can answer your questions
PTSD frequently co-occurs with substance abuse or eating disorders. In light of the stress PTSD inflicts, it is understandable why some sufferers will develop other disorders as a coping tool. When a person is diagnosed with at least two disorders simultaneously, it is called a dual diagnosis, or co-occurring disorders. During patient intake, our expertly trained staff members will provide newly admitted clients with a comprehensive evaluation to learn of any existing diagnosis and to determine which disorders are at play. Our staff will then provide a tailored treatment plan that addresses and treats each disorder in a complementary fashion.
As the Mayo Clinic accurately describes, PTSD sufferers experience common symptoms. This disorder usually occurs after a traumatic event and often causes some of the following symptoms to manifest:
- Intrusive memories. This can include flashbacks, upsetting dreams, and unwanted memories that one cannot seem to shut off.
- Avoidance. Sufferers may actively avoid thinking about the event or visiting places or people that remind her of the traumatic experience.
- Negative mood and thoughts. These can include feeling hopeless about the future, having a low opinion of oneself, feeling numb or negative, and not being able to remember critical details about the traumatic event.
- Shifting emotions. The sufferer may feel guilt or shame, easily become irritable, have outbursts of anger, engage in reckless behavior, have trouble concentrating, and have an inability to sleep well.
As discussed in Psychology Today, one study found that of 293 women receiving treatment in a residential facility, 74 percent reported that they had experienced a significant trauma. Of that group, 52 percent indicated symptoms of current PTSD. This study supports that PTSD develops with some frequency in people who suffer a trauma.
PTSD and co-occurring conditions
Eating disorders are often about control, among other factors. As PTSD sufferers experience overwhelming feelings that are out of their control, they may try to exert greater control over their environment, including their diets. As Psychology Today theorizes, an eating disorder may also be a way for a person to recreate an abuse or trauma scenario by self-shaming or victimizing oneself through abnormal eating practices. In other words, the eating disorder becomes a way to relive the trauma, as a way of coping with that trauma.
Drug abuse is often a means of self-medicating for PTSD sufferers. The process of self-medication is never advisable. The danger of substance abuse is always that physical dependence and then addiction can form. In this way, a PTSD sufferer completely undermines their desire to cope; drug addiction, like PTSD, causes a loss of control over one’s mind and body.
At The Recovery Village, we understand that although people may receive the same diagnosis, no two individuals are the same. Our team of expert mental health and addiction specialists works closely with each client to learn their personal history and to develop a specialized treatment plan for each person. Take your first step on a journey to a healthier, more balanced life by calling us today.
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