Acute stress disorder (ASD) is a period of short-term, psychological stress following a life-altering or traumatic event. In recent years, there has been an emphasis on distinguishing ASD as a separate condition from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). ASD symptoms begin as early as three days after a traumatic event, and last up to one month, while PTSD symptoms last for longer or begin at a later time. Although published data on ASD is less abundant than PTSD, more studies are likely to be conducted in the future. This page provides acute stress disorder statistics and facts about ASD.

Clinical Presentation of Acute Stress Disorder

An individual may have acute stress disorder if they have experienced a recent traumatic life event and exhibit the following signs or symptoms:

  • Anxiety about the future as it relates to the traumatic event
  • Repeated and distressing flashbacks or memories of the event
  • Avoiding thinking of anything that reminds them of their trauma
  • Heightened reactivity, even in situations that pose no immediate danger
  • Insomnia
  • Impulsivity
  • Lack of concentration
  • Feeling more negative than positive emotions regularly

Prevalence of Acute Stress Disorder

Prevalence determines how common a condition is in a given population. The general prevalence of acute stress disorder ranges from 6–33% in people who have experienced trauma.

The prevalence of ASD depends on the specific type of trauma an individual experienced.

Acute stress disorder develops in:

  • 33% of people who experienced a mass shooting
  • 14% of people who experienced a traumatic brain injury
  • 16% of victims of assault
  • 10% of burn victims
  • 6% of people who experienced an industrial accident
  • 13% of people who experienced a motor vehicle accident

It is worth noting that there are other forms of trauma not covered on this list. For instance, the sudden death of a friend or family member may also trigger acute stress disorder.

ASD Risk Factors

Risk factors are defined as any factors that predispose a person to an injury, disease, or a disorder. There are several risk factors for ASD, most of which overlap with PTSD. These include but are not limited to:

  • Sex (higher ASD risk for women)
  • Genetics
  • Childhood trauma
  • Experiencing constant physical or emotional pain
  • Stress
  • History of mental illness
  • Substance use
  • Disassociation
  • Inability to cope
  • Depression

Acute Stress Disorder and Related Conditions

There are a few related conditions that may be similar to or co-occur with acute stress disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, adjustment disorder and substance use.

PTSD

As previously discussed, acute stress disorder is closely related to PTSD. Several clinical studies suggest that a diagnosis of ASD is predictive of PTSD, but cannot completely predict the development of PTSD. Additionally, some people may develop PTSD without ever having ASD first. If a person has ASD symptoms that last for longer than one month or occur after some time has passed since the traumatic event, they may be experiencing symptoms of PTSD.

Adjustment Disorder

An adjustment disorder is a condition related to high stress levels either for short (acute) or long periods (chronic). People with adjustment disorders often have different triggers than those who have ASD. For example, adjustment disorders may be caused by life changes not related to trauma, like the loss of a job, the birth of a child or a move to a new home.

Substance Use

As recently as 2014, 7.9 million Americans suffered from substance use disorders in combination with a mental illness. While there are fewer studies associating acute stress disorder with substance use, studies involving PTSD suggest that half of all individuals suffering from substance use met PTSD diagnostic criteria. More importantly, individuals diagnosed with both PTSD and substance use had worse clinical outcomes than their counterparts without PTSD.

Other Conditions

A study from 2004 described several links between PTSD diagnosis and increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, fibromyalgia and autoimmune diseases. People living with acute stress disorder or PTSD may also be at a higher risk for suicide.

Acute Stress Disorder Treatment & Prognosis

Various medical recommendations can be used to treat acute stress disorder. These include cognitive behavioral therapy with a focus on trauma. The overall goal of acute stress disorder treatment is to mitigate ASD symptoms and prevent the development of PTSD.

Some of the more commonly prescribed ASD treatments include a combination of therapy and medication, such as:

  • Exposure Therapy (If well-tolerated by the patient)
  • Antidepressants/Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Hydrocortisone use for PTSD prevention
  • Omega-3-Fatty Acids for PTSD prevention

The prognosis, or an educated guess at treatment outcome, differs based on the severity of acute stress disorder. Whether or not a patient suffers from multiple mental health issues in conjunction with this disorder may also impact the success of treatment.

If you or a loved one are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction and co-occurring acute stress disorder, The Recovery Village can help. You can receive comprehensive treatment for these co-occurring disorders at one of the facilities located throughout the country. To learn more about treatment programs, call The Recovery Village to speak with a representative.

    

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The Mayo Clinic. “Adjustment Disorders.” October 25, 2017. Accessed April 21, 2019.

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National Institutes of Health. “Prevalence.” November 2016. Accessed April 21, 2019.

World Health Organization. “Risk Factors.” Accessed April 21, 2019.

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