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Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is a diagnosable mental health condition that typically occurs after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. The illness is commonly seen in war veterans but may also be present in individuals that have encountered other frightening situations, such as physical assaults, car or airplane crashes or natural disasters. Long after the event is over, the individual suffering from PTSD may have flashbacks and nightmares that significantly impair their ability to function daily. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that this condition affects about eight million people in the U.S. or around 3.5 percent of the total population. Women are diagnosed more frequently than men, and more than one-third of PTSD cases are considered severe.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a reaction to a horrifying event that might occur within a month or many years afterward. While everyone reacts to life-threatening occurrences in some way, the results are usually temporary, and the individual can move forward at a certain point. People that develop PTSD suffer the effects of the happening for months or even years, feeling fear or anxiety even when they are not in danger. The symptoms usually result in difficulty performing regular tasks and a lower quality of life overall. People with PTSD often require professional treatment to manage their symptoms and learn coping strategies.

Risk Factors for PTSD

Not everyone that goes through a traumatic event will develop PTSD. Some of the factors that could make you more vulnerable to this condition include:

  • Experience or witness an intense, life-threatening trauma
  • Live through trauma during early childhood, such as abuse
  • Work at a job that increases your exposure to traumatic events
  • Have been diagnosed with another mental illness like depression
  • Have a genetic predisposition to mental illness, as parents or siblings may have a disorder

Symptoms of PTSD

There are many different symptoms a person with PTSD might experience:

  • Intrusive memories of the traumatic event
  • Disturbing dreams or nightmares
  • Reliving the event as if it were recurring (flashbacks)
  • Emotional distress when reminded of the occurrence
  • Avoiding thoughts or memories of the event
  • Staying away from places or people that serve as reminders
  • Negative thoughts or feelings of hopelessness
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships with family and friends
  • Lack of interest in things you enjoyed previously
  • Easily startled or frightened, always on guard
  • Trouble sleeping or concentrating
  • Irritability, feeling on edge, angry outbursts
  • Substance abuse and addiction

PTSD and Substance Abuse

A previous report in Time found that more than half (50-60 percent) of all individuals diagnosed with PTSD also struggle with substance addiction. The complex relationship between the two disorders can make it difficult to pinpoint a cause and effect. For some people, use of substances might begin as a way to deal with the fear and anxiety associated with PTSD. Someone might turn to a nightly drink to help them sleep or a drug to calm their feelings of jumpiness. Over time, the substance use may increase to the point of creating a bigger issue. Chronic stress and anxiety, such as that experienced with PTSD, can also interfere with a person’s impulse control, making them more vulnerable to substance abuse and addiction.

Treatment Options

There are many helpful therapies available today to treat PTSD. Specific trauma therapies, such as EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) can be beneficial in assisting trauma victims in processing distressing memories and beliefs. Talk therapy can also help the individual learn different thought processes to see themselves and the world around them in a more positive light.

In addition, people learn to address symptoms through healthy coping mechanisms. If other mental illnesses are present, those can be treated through the therapy as well. In some cases, medication may also be used to help manage symptoms, at least in the short term until psychotherapy begins to have some positive effect.

If a person has both PTSD and a substance abuse disorder, it is known as a co-occurring disorder and must be treated appropriately to ensure both conditions are sufficiently addressed. The Center for Professional Recovery works with professionals in the healthcare industry that might be particularly vulnerable to PTSD, treating both the disorder and the substance abuse via evidence-based treatment modalities to increase the odds for a healthy, long-lasting recovery. Because our center is designed for professionals, you will receive treatment alongside your peers who have similar issues and lifestyles. Contact the Center for Professional Recovery today at 866.298.0056.

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