Signs & Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Symptoms

Arising as a result of a profoundly traumatic experience, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disruptive disorder that can seriously impair a person’s ability to be effective in their daily life. People with PTSD often experience periods of reliving their traumatic experiences, often in the form of flashbacks, dreams or nightmares. They also tend to feel numb or emotionally blunted, detached from others and disconnected from their surroundings. A lack of pleasure in life, excessive arousal and alertness, exaggerated startle reaction, difficulty sleeping, depression and anxiety are also possible.

Unfortunately, these symptoms can encourage a person to seek comfort in substance misuse. While the pleasurable feelings of substance misuse may temporarily mask some PTSD symptoms, the end result of this coping method is typically a combination of a mental and behavioural disorder due to the use of substances and co-occurring PTSD. Instead of improving the person’s life, substance misuse can present an even greater obstacle to one’s mental health and generally necessitate seeking the help of a dedicated addiction treatment centre. It is important to seek assistance and treatment for co-occurring PTSD.

Signs and symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The symptoms of PTSD tend to fall into three major categories:

  • Re-experiencing, which are reminders of the traumatic experience
  • Avoidance, which are attempts to avoid people, places, or situations associated with the traumatic event
  • Hyperarousal, which involves excessive amounts of alertness or awareness of one’s surroundings

Re-experiencing symptoms:

  • Flashbacks, or strong dissociative reactions that cause a person to feel as though he or she is in the midst of the traumatic experience
  • Nightmares or intense, disturbing dreams
  • Involuntary, intrusive or distressing memories of the trauma
  • Elevated physiological responses, including difficulty breathing, rapid heart rate and sweating

Avoidance symptoms:

  • Attempting to not think about thoughts, memories or feelings associated with the traumatic event
  • Intentionally staying away from people, places, situations or conversations that remind a person of the trauma
  • Difficulty remembering details about the traumatic experience
  • Feeling detached from life or hopeless about the future
  • Difficulty feeling, or inability to feel positive emotions

Hyperarousal symptoms:

  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Jumpiness
  • Engaging in risky, reckless or self-destructive behaviours
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Angry outbursts
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Excessive alertness to one’s environment (“hypervigilance”)

Causes and risk factors for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Although PTSD is caused by a traumatic event, not everyone who experiences a traumatic event develops PTSD. As a result, certain factors seem to influence a person’s likelihood of developing PTSD after a traumatic experience. Some of these factors can include:

Researchers have determined that people with certain genetic markers may be either more or less susceptible to developing PTSD after a traumatic experience.

A number of environmental factors can affect a person’s risk of developing PTSD after a traumatic experience. Some of these may include lower socioeconomic status, previous exposure to trauma, adversity or abuse during childhood, lower intelligence, minority status and family history of mental illness. Other environmental factors include severity of trauma, identity of perpetrator during violent trauma, episodes of dissociation and repeated reminders of the traumatic experience.

Risk Factors:

  • Young age
  • Gender (women are more likely to experience PTSD)
  • Personal history of other mental disorders
  • Tendency towards self-blaming or fatalistic beliefs
  • Poor social support
  • Being a victim of violence from a trusted figure (such as a caregiver or family member)
  • Poor coping abilities
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Effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

If left untreated, PTSD can severely impair nearly every areas of a person’s life. Some examples of these negative effects include:

  • Inadequate job performance leading to demotion or job loss
  • Long-term unemployment
  • Financial strain
  • Stressed or broken interpersonal relationships
  • Separation, divorce, or social isolation
  • Injury sustained during reckless behaviours
  • Substance misuse
  • Suicidal behaviour

Co-Occurring disorders

People who struggle with PTSD unfortunately often struggle with other mental health diagnoses, especially substance misuse and disorders related to substance misuse. Some other co-occurring disorders may include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Conduct disorder
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