Page title background

Trauma and PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is likely to affect about eight out of 100 people in their lifetime. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the most well-known trauma-related mental disorder. While many think of PTSD as occurring in combat veterans or others who experienced war, this mental illness does not discriminate. It can affect anyone regardless of age, sex, race or culture.

What Is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a prolonged stress response that becomes a chronic mental health problem. Some traumatized people have symptoms of stress. But not all those who have stress also have PTSD. The main characteristic of PTSD is persistence.

A trauma is an event related to any of the following:

  • Threatened or actual sexual violence
  • Threatened or actual severe injury
  • Threatened or actual death

When there’s danger around a person, it triggers a fight or flight response in the brain. Brain chemicals change while blood pressure, heart rate, temperature and respiration increase. The person becomes alert, and this may help them escape danger. After the event passes, it may be PTSD if the stress response continues.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD symptoms may show up within three months after a tragic event such as an auto accident, the death of a loved one, natural disaster or combat. It may also be delayed and occur many years after.

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms include four categories:

  • Intrusive memories: These are the most common PTSD symptoms and are frequently portrayed in the media. These include flashbacks where people “see” the traumatic event again. At night, the person may find it difficult to sleep because of the repeated flashbacks. These vivid recurring experiences trigger a stress response with extreme physical reactions.
  • Avoidance: The person makes continuous efforts to avoid the intrusive symptoms and all trauma-related experiences. This includes trying to avoid discussing or thinking about the traumatic experience and staying away from places, activities and people that can bring back old memories of the trauma.
  • Drastic mood swings: A person with PTSD will experience symptoms of depression regularly. These include guilt, low self-esteem and loss of interest in social activities. Also, the person may feel isolated from others and experience memory loss and negative feelings about themselves.
  • Emotional reactions: A common sign of PTSD is overreacting to people and events. The brain activates the stress response system frequently. This could make people feel aggressive, irritable, reckless or cause them to act in a self-destructive way. They may also abuse drugs or alcohol.

Who Is at Risk for Developing PTSD?

Not everyone who experiences trauma has PTSD. Different factors heighten the risk of developing this disorder:

  • A family history of mental illnesses
  • Poor social support
  • Having few close relationships
  • Pre-existing substance use disorder
  • A history of abuse during childhood
  • Experiencing other stressors after the tragic event such as the death of a family member, physical injury or job loss

Types of PTSD Treatment

Treatment for PTSD and substance abuse may need to be combined in a dual recovery program.

  • Exposure therapy can reduce PTSD symptoms, even if the person is still using drugs or alcohol. Programs that treat substance dependency and other mental health illnesses give patients a chance to combat both co-occurring disorders at the same time.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or talk therapy is an effective treatment for PTSD symptoms. The therapist or counselor helps the patient become aware of harmful thinking and teaches them how to respond to it. Another effective approach is to combine CBT with coping skill development and anxiety reduction techniques.

Get Treatment for PTSD Symptoms

If you have PTSD or you need to help your loved one, we’re available to offer life-changing treatment that works. At Gateway, we treat both PTSD and addiction using high-quality, evidence-based techniques. And we’ve been helping people deal with PTSD symptoms and other types of mental illnesses for over 50 years in Illinois. Give us a call now at 877.505.4673 or reach out to us with an instant message through our contact page.