Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Many people assume that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition that only affects those who have been in the military and first responders. However, PTSD can affect anyone regardless of occupation, age, or gender.

PTSD is a mental illness typically brought on by a traumatic event. The development of PTSD can be the rest of either direct involvement in a traumatic event or witnessing the event. While PTSD can be debilitating and even life-threatening, it is treatable.

What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that occurs in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Examples of traumatic events include:

  • Fatal car accident
  • Natural disaster
  • War/Combat
  • Abuse or assault, including sexual assault or domestic violence
  • Rape
  • Terrorist act
  • Serious injury

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder falls under the category of an anxiety disorder.

PTSD VS C-PTSD

C-PTSD, also known as Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a condition that is very similar to PTSD. Someone with PTSD can develop the disorder after one event, while C-PTSD occurs due to repeated trauma experienced over months or even years.

Someone suffering from C-PTSD will experience many of the same symptoms as someone with PTSD. They also might experience additional symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty controlling their emotions
  • Feeling very angry toward the world
  • Feeling alone or like nobody can understand what they are going through
  • Experiencing suicidal thoughts

Symptoms of PTSD

The severity of PTSD can vary based on the traumatic event that happened. Someone directly involved in a traumatic event might experience more severe symptoms than someone indirectly involved.

Symptoms of PTSD are typically divided into four different groups, each with its own set of sub-symptoms:

  • Intrusive memories
  • Avoidance
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood
  • Changes in physical and emotional reactions

Intrusive Memories

Intrusive memories occur when someone is reliving or re-experiencing the traumatic experience.

Examples of intrusive memories include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Traumatic memories
  • Recurring and unwanted memories of the event
  • Dreams and nightmares about the event
  • Having extreme emotional and physical reactions to things that remind you of the event

Avoidance

When someone has PTSD, it is not uncommon for them to avoid certain situations or places that might trigger memories of the event.

Examples of avoidance include:

  • Actively avoiding thinking or talking about the event
  • Avoiding people, places, and activities that remind you of the event

Negative Changes in Thinking and Mood

Experiencing a traumatic event (either directly or indirectly) can affect someone’s entire psyche.

Some examples of these negative changes include:

  • Feeling numb emotionally
  • Feeling detached from others
  • Struggling to maintain relationships
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Having negative thoughts about yourself, others, or the world
  • Memory loss as it pertains to the event
  • Struggling to feel positive emotions such as joy or happiness
  • Experiencing feelings of shame, horror, anger, or fear
  • Angry outbursts

Changes in Physical and Emotional Reactions

PTSD can not only affect someone mentally but can also affect them physically and emotionally.

Examples include:

  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Being easily startled or frightened
  • Irritability
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Feeling overwhelming guilt or shame

PTSD symptoms can begin as early as three months after the traumatic event. In some cases, symptoms don’t start popping up until years later.

According to the DSM-5, a PTSD diagnosis requires at least one symptom from each of the four categories occurring for at least one month.

PTSD Causes and Risk Factors

According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD affects approximately 3.5% of the adult population in the U.S. every year. Nearly one in every 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime.

Studies have shown that women are nearly twice as likely to develop PTSD than men. Latinos, African Americans, and American Indians all have PTSD at a higher rate than other ethnicities.

Below are some additional causes and risk factors associated with PTSD:

  • Genetics
  • Chemical makeup of the brain
  • Personality traits
  • Stressful experiences
  • Other mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression
  • Substance abuse or addiction

PTSD in Combat Veterans

While women, Latinos, African Americans, and American Indians all experience PTSD at a higher rate, so do combat veterans.

Combat veterans are more prone to PTSD because of their line of work. Below are some statistics about the prevalence of PTSD in combat veterans:

  • Anywhere from 11-20% of all veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom suffer from PTSD
  • Roughly 12% of all Gulf War veterans have PTSD
  • A late 1980s study done by the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study found that at the time, roughly 15% of all Vietnam vets suffered from PTSD
  • Estimates show that close to 30% of all Vietnam vets had PTSD at one point in their lives

Active military duty isn’t the only contributing factor to veterans experiencing PTSD. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 23% of women reported sexual assault while in the military, while 55% of women and 38% of men reported cases of sexual harassment.

Conditions Related to PTSD

While several disorders do not fall under the category of PTSD, they share many of the same symptoms and characteristics. In some instances, someone with PTSD might suffer from one of these related conditions in addition to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder

Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder occurs primarily in children who have experienced severe neglect or deprivation.

It is most common in children who don’t get adequate affection. It can also occur when a young child experiences repeated changes in caregivers and can’t form a bond or attachment.

Acute Stress Disorder

Acute Stress Disorder is similar to PTSD because it occurs due to a traumatic event. Those suffering from Acute Stress Disorder often show symptoms that are similar to PTSD as well.

The main difference between the two conditions is that while PTSD symptoms often don’t occur for months or even years, Acute Stress Disorder symptoms can pop up as fast as three days after the event.

Adjustment Disorder

Adjustment disorder is a response to a stressful event or series of events. The symptoms of Adjustment Disorder are very similar to those of PTSD, including sadness and hopelessness plus withdrawal from others.

Whereas PTSD is usually triggered by one very serious or traumatic event, Adjustment Disorder can be triggered by any event that can cause stress.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Addiction

Frequently, those who have PTSD experience intense feelings of shame or guilt. They also might feel as though nobody around them will be able to understand what they are going through.

To “fix” these feelings, they might turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the mental pain they are experiencing and self-medicate. They might even experience a brief period of relief and continue drinking or using drugs.

Drinking and doing drugs as a form of self-medicating can not only lead to the development of a substance use problem, but it can also make the symptoms of PTSD worse. Many of the symptoms and side effects of drinking and doing drugs mimic the symptoms of PTSD, including stress, anxiety, irritability, and depression.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Treatment Options

Thankfully, there is no shortage of effective treatment options for PTSD. Before beginning a treatment plan, it is crucial to speak to your healthcare provider or licensed mental health professional.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a popular treatment option for those with PTSD. Psychotherapy helps identify the cause or causes of their PTSD and teaches them valuable ways to manage symptoms and cope with their triggers in a healthier way moving forward.

Several forms of psychotherapy have been effective in treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Exposure Therapy
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy
  • Psychodynamic Therapy
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy
  • Stress Inoculation Therapy
  • Family Therapy
  • Group Therapy

Medication for PTSD

When prescribed by a physician or licensed treatment professional, certain medications help treat PTSD. These medications address many mental and physical symptoms of PTSD, including anxiety, depression, stress, irritability, and anger.

FDA-approved medications used for treating PTSD include:

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Antidepressants
  • Mood stabilizers
  • Atypical antipsychotics
  • Blood pressure medications

Name brand examples of these medications include:

  • Prozac
  • Paxil
  • Zoloft
  • Celexa
  • Luvox
  • Elavil
  • Doxepin
  • Abilify
  • Seroquel
  • Lamictal
  • Depakote
  • Prazosin
  • Catapres

PTSD Support Groups

A common symptom that people who suffer from PTSD experience is feeling isolated and having nobody to talk to. Finding a support group can be a great way to alleviate these feelings.

Support groups provide safe environments for those with PTSD to share what they are going through with others who understand what they are going through because they also have PTSD.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is a government organization to help veterans in need, including those with PTSD. They provide resources for support groups both locally and online.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America also provides resources on its website, including a support group locator for in-person and virtual meetings.

Find Help for PTSD

If you or a family member or loved one is struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it’s essential to get help immediately before symptoms worsen.

You can reach out to your healthcare provider or a licensed treatment professional to discuss treatment options. If you don’t have a healthcare provider or want a list of treatment professionals in your area, visit the SAMHSA online Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator or the National Center for PTSD.

Frequently Asked Questions About PTSD

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

Symptoms of PTSD are typically divided into four different groups. They are:

  • Intrusive memories
  • Avoidance
  • Negative changes in thinking and mood
  • Changes in physical and emotional reactions

What are the causes of PTSD?

Several factors can cause PTSD, including:

  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Genetics
  • Personality traits
  • Stressful experiences
  • Other mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression
  • Substance abuse or addiction
  • Chemical makeup of the brain

What does PTSD do to a person?

Someone with PTSD might experience traumatic flashbacks from the event and nightmares. They might also experience sadness, fear, anger, or even guilt due to the event.

What are the different categories of post-traumatic stress disorder?

There are five different categories of PTSD:

  • Normal stress response
  • Acute Stress Disorder
  • Uncomplicated PTSD
  • Complex PTSD
  • Comorbid PTSD
Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction GuideWritten by:

Content Manager

Jessica Miller is a USF graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. She has written professionally for over a decade, from HR scripts and employee training to business marketing and company branding. In addition to writing, Jessica spent time in the healthcare sector (HR) and as a high school teacher. She has personally experienced the pitfalls of addiction and is delighted to bring her knowledge and writing skills together to support our mission. Jessica lives in St. Petersburg, FL with her husband and two dogs.

8 references
  1. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2018, July 6). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355973

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2019, May). Post-traumatic stress disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd#part_2241

  3. What is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Psychiatry.org – What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? (2020, December 13, 2022, from https://psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd#section_6

  4. WebMD. (2022, August 31). Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Symptoms, diagnosis, treatment. WebMD. Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/post-traumatic-stress-disorder#091e9c5e80008fbe-2-4

  5. Va.gov: Veterans Affairs. PTSD Treatment Basics. (2018, August 8). Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand_tx/tx_basics.asp

  6. Gilles, G. (2018, September 29). Complex PTSD: Symptoms, tests, treatment, and finding support. Healthline. Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/cptsd

  7. What is complex PTSD? Mind. (2021, January). Retrieved September 23, 2022, from https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd-and-complex-ptsd/complex-ptsd/

  8. Va.gov: Veterans Affairs. How Common is PTSD in Veterans? (2018, July 24). Retrieved September 23, 2022, from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_veterans.asp

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