PTSD Signs & Symptoms

Understanding PTSD

Learn About PTSD

Posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health condition that can arise if a person experiences a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events. Although it is commonly associated with soldiers, as they can experience many traumatic events during deployment, nearly anybody can experience PTSD. The disorder can be triggered by almost any experience that causes a person to experience helplessness, victimization, or extreme distress. Some other events that may trigger PTSD symptoms can include terrorist attacks, being the victim of violent crime, experiencing abuse, living through a natural disaster, or surviving a car accident or plane crash. People who have PTSD tend to struggle with re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance symptoms, and hyperarousal symptoms, and these symptoms can be severe enough to prevent a person from functioning effectively in his or her life.

Sometimes a person may begin using substances as a means of coping with the distressing symptoms of PTSD. Unfortunately, substance abuse brings a set of problems all of its own, and before long, a person may find him or herself now struggling with both PTSD and a substance use disorder.

While such a situation may seem dire, there is help for those who seek it. With assistance from a dedicated substance abuse treatment center that includes expert, caring staff, it is possible to overcome PTSD and substance abuse.


PTSD Statistics

The National Center for PTSD has found that roughly 60% of men and 50% of women will experience a traumatic event or a severe chronic stressor. Of these, the majority will not develop symptoms of PTSD, with approximately 4% of men and 10% of women being diagnosed with PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event. Nationwide, about 5.2 million Americans are struggling with the disorder in a given year. Data from the PTSD Foundation of America has found that the rates of PTSD among returning veterans are much higher when compared to the general population, with one-third of returning veterans experiencing symptoms of PTSD. Unfortunately, only 40% of these servicemen and servicewomen will seek treatment.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for PTSD

PTSD is, by definition, a disorder arising out of exposure to something traumatic in one’s environment. That being said, however, not everyone who exposed to a traumatic event develops PTSD. The following is a discussion of what factors may influence certain people to develop the disorder after experiencing a traumatic event:

Genetic: Research has suggested a hereditary link in a person’s vulnerability to PTSD. People whose family members are currently struggling or have struggled with trauma- or stressor-related disorders, anxiety disorders, or other mental health conditions are more likely to develop PTSD in response to a traumatic event than are people whose families do not have a history of these disorders.

Environmental: As mentioned above, PTSD is a response to an environmental stressor, so naturally people who are exposed to intense stress or traumatic events, such as violence, war, or abuse, are more likely to develop PTSD. In addition, people who have been raised in chaotic homes are more likely to develop the disorder, as are people who have poor coping skills or a poor social network. A history of previous chronic stress or trauma also increases the likelihood that a person will struggle with PTSD.

Risk Factors:

  • Exposure to a traumatic event or severe chronic stress
  • Family history of posttraumatic stress disorder or other mental health disorders
  • Personal history of mental health disorders
  • Gender, as PTSD is more frequently diagnosed in women
  • Not having a good social support network
  • Having poor coping skills
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Being divorced or widowed
  • Past military service or other dangerous job

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

Mental health experts divide the symptoms of PTSD into re-experiencing, avoidance, and hyperarousal symptoms. While each person’s experience of PTSD is different, the following are some common signs and symptoms of the disorder:

Re-experiencing symptoms:

  • Intense nightmares about the traumatic event
  • Racing heart, sweating, difficulty breathing, and other physiological symptoms in response to thinking about the traumatic event
  • Flashbacks, which are periods of dissociation and feeling as though one is back in the middle of the traumatic event
  • Intrusive memories about the event

Avoidance symptoms:

  • Difficulty remembering details about the traumatic event
  • Feeling detached or separated from reality
  • Lack of positive emotions in one’s life
  • Directly avoiding people, places, situations, or conversations that remind the person of his or her trauma
  • Attempting to avoid feelings, thoughts, or memories associated with the traumatic event
  • Feeling hopeless

Hyperarousal symptoms:

  • Heightened startle response
  • Hypervigilance, or feeling intensely aware of one’s surroundings
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Behaving in a risky, reckless, or self-destructive manner
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Agitation or irritability
  • Experiencing angry outbursts


Effects of PTSD

Should it go untreated, the effects of PTSD and co-occurring substance abuse can have a profoundly negative effect on a person’s life. Some of these negative effects may include:

  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Damage to relationships
  • Divorce
  • Loss of child custody
  • Declining job performance
  • Loss of job
  • Financial strife
  • Legal problems
  • Homelessness
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Developing a substance use disorder
  • Diminished self-esteem
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Onset or worsening of mental health condition symptoms
  • Polysubstance use, addiction, or chemical dependency

Co-Occurring Disorders

PTSD and Co-Occurring Disorders

People who struggle with PTSD and co-occurring substance abuse may unfortunately also struggle with other mental health disorders. Some of these co-occurring mental health disorders may include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance use disorders
  • Conduct disorder
  • Neurocognitive disorders