When many people imagine post-traumatic stress disorder, they picture an image of returning war veterans who are unable to shake off their combat experiences. While many of our dedicated soldiers are indeed exposed to traumas that may lead to post-traumatic stress, or PTSD, this disorder can affect anyone. PTSD is a disorder that begins in some people after they experience a dangerous, shocking, or frightening event. PTSD can even occur when a close loved one or comrade has experienced a life-threatening trauma—when this happens, it is known as vicarious PTSD.1
Not every person will go on to be diagnosed with PTSD after a traumatic incident. Scientists are not entirely sure why some people experience this disorder after trauma while others do not. PTSD does equally affect all ages, genders, cultures, and races of people who have lived through trauma. Those that do experience PTSD may experience a specific range of symptoms, including intense memories or flashbacks of the incident, a strong desire to avoid memories of the incident, feeling angry on tense most of the time, and trouble accurately remembering the incident along with new, negative emotions about the world and others.2
The scars of PTSD can run deep, often affecting and upsetting the balance and routine of daily life. There are treatment options available that will help the trauma survivor regain a sense of balance and control along with lessened anxiety and relationship difficulties.
How Do Traumatic Events Cause PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder begins with some event or series of events that were perceived as life-threatening to the survivor’s brain. Some traumatic incidents that may lead to PTSD include (but are not limited to), auto accidents, natural disasters, the traumatic loss of a loved one, serious injury, sexual assault, or abuse.
When someone is subjected to an event that threatens life or personal safety, the brain releases massive amounts of the hormones (notably adrenaline) to engage a “fight-or-flight” response: either confront the situation head-on or flee for safety. This is a normal reaction to any kind of dangerous scenario, and for most people, the brain begins to shut down the fight-or-flight response once the situation is under control.3
But sometimes the blast of hormones is so strong that the brain cannot sufficiently reduce the victim’s tension back to healthy and normal levels, or the traumatic experience lasts for so long or is repeated so often that the brain is forced to constantly pump out stress hormones or stay on alert for further threats.
When this happens, the chemical makeup of the brain is altered by the strong and/or prolonged release of stress hormones. The changes can last for months or even years, putting the victim on a constant state of alert and fear, regardless of the lack of any actual danger present.3
What Does PTSD Look Like?
Human beings have various ways of responding to terrifying or shocking events. With post-traumatic stress disorder, there are three primary symptoms.2 Consider the following:
- Avoidance. The victim consciously or subconsciously avoids any kind of stimuli that reminds him or her of the traumatic event; for example, a soldier may not frequent a once-patronized shooting range, or a sexual assault victim may be compelled to avoid people who are similar to the attacker.
- Hyperarousal. When this symptom is present, the victim is always tense, always expecting the attack or violent incident to happen again, even when he or she is in a safe and protected environment. Sleep may be impaired, and mood changes can be unpredictable.
- Recurring or intrusive memories. The victim has unwilling flashbacks to, or nightmares of, the experiences and sensations of the traumatic event. These memories or flashbacks cause severe emotional distress.
Post-traumatic stress disorder may also present with other symptoms: depression, guilty feelings associated with the traumatic event (even if the feelings are not logical), chronic pain, substance abuse, panic attacks, relationship instability, and suicidal thoughts.
PTSD symptoms must persist for at least a month in order for the individual to be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The victim must also demonstrate signs of significant impairment in daily life, such as withdrawal from social groups and declining job performance, for a certified PTSD diagnosis. Similar conditions to rule out include acute stress disorder, adjustment disorder, and some mood disorders. PTSD may occur alongside other conditions, such as depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and substance use disorders.2
Substance Abuse and PTSD
Not everyone who undergoes a traumatic experience will develop post-traumatic stress disorder. Of people who are exposed to an event that threatens their physical safety and/or their lives, only 8 to 12 percent meet the above criteria for PTSD.1Early intervention may help prevent post-traumatic stress disorder, but not all survivors of a violent experience are able to connect with people and institutions that can help them overcome their trauma.
Some trauma survivors are tempted to cope with the debilitating effects of PTSD by self-medicating with alcohol and drugs. These substances or behaviors may provide a temporary escape from feelings of depression, anxiety, guilt and despair, but come at a price that is as life-threatening as the original traumatic event.
It is important to note that no one wants to become an addict. These disorders are often complicated and intertwined. Therefore, if substance abuse or any other compulsive behavior is present alongside a history of trauma, it is important to seek treatment for both conditions. Recovery from PTSD is best when the individual is substance-free and healthy. Likewise, recovery from substance abuse works best when an individual also receives supportive treatment for PTSD at the same time.
Since the causes and effects of post-traumatic stress disorder run deep, managing the condition will employ a wide range of therapeutic options. At The Canyon, our trained staff members provide a safe and healthy environment for our patients to properly and positively deal with their PTSD.
PTSD may be complicated by the presence of an addiction to substances or behaviors– a condition known as a “dual diagnosis”. At the Canyon, we are ready help guide you or your loved one to recovery with the help of modern, effective treatment methods that are provided by experienced, licensed professionals that excel in the field of recovery. Each treatment plan we offer is unique to each patient in order to address the source of the trauma along with the ways it has manifested in their lives.
The Canyon is a drug-free safe harbor, where our patients will be free of the temptations to use harmful substances as they are pulled through the clutches of their depression and stress.Any medications, as assessed by our in-house medical team along with a board-certified psychiatrist,will be carefully monitored by our staff members.Treatment plans often include family counseling, individual counseling, group therapy, and experiential therapy and are designed help each person understand more about the process of addiction and substance use in order to build a healthier future.
Living with post-traumatic stress disorder or substance use disorders is a difficult experience, but at The Canyon, you can rest assured that you or your loved one will find a place of healing, restoration and hope. Call us today to find out how we can help you get started on the first step to your journey of rebuilding your life.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.)
- Bremner, J. D. (2006). Traumatic stress: effects on the brain. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 8(4), 445–461.