The rise and pervasiveness of post-traumatic stress disorder worldwide have demanded we approach others — not just those in addiction treatment — with more care and intention. This includes how we talk about trauma and what we include when we consider its effects. As one of the most emotionally debilitating mental health disorders affecting 3.5% of U.S. adults, those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder require specialized treatment.
As a mental health community, we are only more recently aware that those who develop diagnosable PTSD are a small minority of the population exposed to traumatic events. Many events beyond the cruelties of war and childhood abuse can elicit a trauma response. Even before we take our very first breath, we are not immune to the possibility of trauma. In the last year alone, given the threat to certainty and our way of life, we have experienced a collective trauma.
In a nationwide survey, 40.9% of respondents reported experiencing at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition or symptoms of a trauma-and stressor-related disorder (TSRD) related to the pandemic. Everyone reacts to traumatic events differently, with not all experiences leading to post-traumatic stress disorder development. Each person is unique in their ability to manage fear and distress. However, similar patterns emerge as we seek to understand how those with PTSD address the trauma that threatens their very wellbeing.
To avoid the bitter reality of what they experienced, many individuals turn to substances. They aim to numb their pain or gain some measure of control in their lives. So what warrants a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, and what treatment is available for trauma and the often unhelpful addiction patterns it creates? This article begins at diagnosis and will lead you to discover your incredible power over your past.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual stipulates that we cannot diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder until at least one month has passed since the traumatic event. If symptoms of PTSD are present, a medical professional will begin an evaluation first by assessing your complete medical history and doing a physical exam. Although there are no lab tests to diagnose PTSD explicitly, the doctor may use various tests to rule out other physical illnesses as the cause of the presented symptoms.
Symptoms of PTSD
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder often begin within three months of the traumatic event. In some cases, they may not arise until years later. The duration and severity of symptoms associated with PTSD can vary. Some people recover from severe symptoms within six months, while others sustain its effects for much longer. There is no one path to healing, but attention to all parts of you, body, mind, and soul, is the cornerstone of holistic recovery. Symptoms of PTSD often put in four common categories:
- Increased arousal
- Negative cognitions and mood
Those diagnosed with PTSD repeatedly relive the traumatic experience through swirling thoughts and memories of the trauma. People who have post-traumatic stress disorder may feel distressed when specific things remind them of the trauma, such as the event’s anniversary. These cues may lead to flashbacks, hallucinations, and even nightmares. When in that triggered state of mind, physiological changes in behavior and emotions occur.
- Frequent nightmares
- Prolonged emotional distress
- Physiological reactions to trauma reminders
- Intrusive, invasive, involuntary memories of the event(s)
A person with post-traumatic stress disorder may avoid people, places, thoughts, or situations that remind them of the trauma. By avoiding the triggers that create that state of mind, they can lower their risk of further trauma flashbacks. This avoidance of things can lead to internal feelings of detachment and isolation from family and friends. Also, there may be a loss of interest in activities that the person once enjoyed.
- Avoidance (or attempts to avoid) trauma reminders
Another symptom of PTSD includes excessive emotions. Powerful emotions like these can cause problems relating to others. Some of these issues involve feeling and showing affection, difficulty falling and staying asleep, irritability, sudden outbursts of anger, difficulty concentrating, and being easily startled. A person diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder may also suffer manifested physical symptoms, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, increased breathing, increased muscle tension, nausea, and even diarrhea.
- Difficulty concentrating
- Self-harm or self-injury
- Increased anger and irritability
- Insomnia or other sleep problems
- Risky or self-destructive behavior
- Hyper-vigilance (being on edge) and exaggerated startle response
Negative Cognitions and Mood
Thoughts and feelings related to blame, guilt, estrangement, and memories of the traumatic event strongly impair mental cognition and emotional mood. This snowball feedback cycle can become highly toxic. Learning to be aware and how to handle triggers will increase one’s quality of life tremendously.
- Blocked out memories or inability to recall parts of the traumatic event
- Negative and often fearful beliefs about oneself, others, or the world
- Constant negative mood state and distorted thoughts
- Inability to feel pleasure or other positive emotions
- Heightened sense of self-blame or guilt
- Feeling disconnected from others
Managing & Treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder treatment aims to reduce the emotional and physical symptoms and improve daily functioning. Treatment for PTSD can include psychotherapy, medication, or both. However, due to often co-occurring addiction patterns, it’s vital to consider whether pharmaceutical management of PTSD will only serve to create more challenges to avoid trauma reminders at all costs.
In contrast, therapy focused on body, mind, and soul — as we offer at our women’s residential addiction treatment center — helps those with PTSD better manage their trauma symptoms instead of running from them. Relying on our understanding of trauma’s effects on the body, brain, nervous system, and psyche, we tailor our holistic treatment approach to address the whole person.
Our integrated approach to treating PTSD and addiction teaches women not just how to survive their past; they’re already experts in that area. We teach them how to truly live and how to be no longer haunted by it. Connect with us today to learn more about how we heal trauma and addiction.