When a potentially dangerous or deadly event occurs – a near-death experience, an earthquake, a terrorist attack, etc. – it’s natural and normal to go through a period of anxiety in response. This human answer to a threatening situation is designed to protect us; if we are anxious, we are on alert and more capable of self-preservation.
However, for some people, the emotional effects of acute stressors and trauma do not fade with time. Instead, stress levels remain high, and as months and years pass, this consistently high level of anxiety takes a toll. When this occurs, patients may be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and trauma, a mental health disorder that requires significant treatment and intervention.
For patients who find that their feelings related to a traumatic event are inhibiting their ability to function in day-to-day life, the most proactive response is an intensive treatment program. Because most patients struggling with PTSD symptoms and trauma often attempt to “self-medicate” with alcohol and other substances, it is important that the treatment program include substance abuse treatment.
The Cause of PTSD Symptoms
Though no one knows why some people develop post-traumatic stress disorder in response to trauma, certain events or situations have been identified as having an increased likelihood of triggering the disorder. These include:
- Natural disaster
- Near-death experience
- Assault or attack
- Witnessing someone else’s attack or death
- Sexual abuse
- Physical abuse
- Wartime experience
For some people, issues of post-traumatic stress and trauma can arise even if they are physically separate and safe from the event. High anxiety in response to any trauma should be addressed as soon as it is clear that it will take more than time to treat symptoms.
Signs of PTSD
Not all patients will admit openly to their family members or loved ones that they are having a hard time processing something that happened to them. Especially in the event of ongoing physical or sexual abuse, they may feel as if they in some way caused the problem or are to blame and thus feel uncomfortable asking for help. Family members who are concerned about their loved one may look for signs that include:
- Increased irritability, paranoia and agitation
- An inability to maintain positive relationships
- Nightmares and insomnia
- Feelings of survivor’s guilt or shame about inaction during the trauma
PTSD and Substance Abuse
It’s not uncommon for those who struggle with intense negative emotions related to anxiety and PTSD to attempt to numb those feelings with substance use and abuse. Alcohol, painkillers, heroin, and other drugs are often abused by those seeking escape. The coexisting conditions of PTSD and drug and alcohol abuse can mean an even more difficult time coping in everyday life. Patients with both disorders will require a special kind of treatment program that includes therapeutic intervention and, in some cases, medication that addresses the effects of both disorders simultaneously. Because substance abuse can worsen symptoms of PTSD, and PTSD symptoms can trigger relapse in drug and alcohol users, it’s important that patients undergo dual diagnosis treatment rather than attempt to treat first one disorder then the other.
Learn more about the most effective treatment options for post-traumatic stress disorder and how we at Constellation Behavioral Health provide intensive, evidence-based treatment programs for patients and their families when you contact us at our Alta Mira Treatment Center.