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what causes PTSD

PTSD Causes

Post-traumatic stress disorder can develop after a one-time stressful or frightening event or a prolonged traumatic experience. In any given year, about 12 million U.S. adults have this mental health condition, which can affect anyone, regardless of their age, beliefs or background. In observance of PTSD Awareness Month, let’s look at risk factors and symptoms associated with this disorder.

Why Do People Get PTSD?

Any experience that profoundly affects you can have a ripple effect on your life, but the medical community has yet to pinpoint why some people develop PTSD and others don’t. If you have struggled with your mental health in the past, or if issues like depression and anxiety run in your family, you might be more susceptible to having a traumatic event stay with you.

Humans evolved with an instinctive fight-or-flight response that allows us to react quickly in response to a perceived danger. With this innate reaction, your body will release stress hormones like adrenaline, which should return to their baseline levels once the threat has passed. However, people with PTSD continue producing high amounts of fight-or-flight hormones, even when they are not at risk – leading to a condition called hyperarousal.  

Some experts have suggested that PTSD could result from an overactive survival mechanism. For example, constantly reliving the event through flashbacks and nightmares may be your brain’s way of preparing you if it happens again. Likewise, the feeling of being on edge might help you act quickly in another crisis. Ultimately, however, these responses aren’t productive because they prevent you from processing your trauma and moving on.

PTSD Symptoms

In most cases, PTSD symptoms emerge soon after the triggering event, but it can sometimes take months or even years for a person to start displaying a trauma response. A mental health professional can diagnose you with PTSD if ongoing issues like these are severe enough to disrupt your quality of life.

  • Sleeplessness or nightmares
  • Avoiding people, places or circumstances that remind you of the trauma
  • Continually reliving the traumatic event
  • Reluctance to discuss your feelings or memories
  • Feelings of guilt, anger, shame and negativity
  • Loss of joy, happiness and satisfaction
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Startling easily
  • Irresponsible or self-destructive behavior
  • Increased suspicion and watchfulness
  • Trouble focusing on tasks
  • Excessive fear or distress
  • Tachycardia, fatigue, muscle tension, nausea, headaches and body aches

The Link Between PTSD and Addiction

Many people who develop substance use disorders also suffer from PTSD, and vice versa. In the absence of healthy coping mechanisms, drugs and alcohol can provide temporary relief that helps survivors ease the pain they feel.

Unfortunately, as the effects of the substance wear off, stress levels and PTSD symptoms will become more severe. PTSD can also worsen drug withdrawal symptoms, exacerbating the disorder and making it more challenging to stop drinking or using.

A Medical, Psychological and Spiritual Approach to Recovery

For people with co-occurring PTSD and addiction, it is essential to treat the two disorders simultaneously and holistically. For those with significant substance dependence, medically managed detox at an accredited facility is often the first step in a complete treatment plan.

Over our 25 years of helping people recover from addiction, Vista Taos has created a unique program that provides the hope and healing our clients need to achieve sustainable, lifelong sobriety. Reach out to us today to learn more.

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