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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a severe anxiety disorder that occurs when someone witnesses or experiences a traumatic event. In the midst of a traumatic or dangerous situation, our body responds in a variety of ways that we do not have control over. This includes releasing chemicals to help us contend with what is happening at that moment. Once the crisis has passed, most people’s biology will stabilize in a reasonable amount of time. For others, however, those biochemical changes persist and manifest in a variety of psychological symptoms which include a compromised ability to cope. Frequently, those suffering from PTSD turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to alleviate these symptoms. In addition, those with PTSD have a significantly higher chance of developing an addiction.

Use the following questions PTSD help you determine if your loved one’s addiction can, in part at least, be attributed to PTSD.

Are you aware of a traumatic event that has occurred?

Some common scenarios that result in PTSD are war, natural disasters, violent crime, and illness. Basically, any physical or psychological trauma, and frequently a combination of the two, can provoke PTSD. Do not discount the chance of a PTSD because you do not think he or she has gone through a traumatic experience. Circumstances that can induce PTSD are difficult to acknowledge, and as a result might not be disclosed by your loved one. If someone was physically or sexually assaulted, witnessed a violent crime, or suffered emotional or physical abuse, he or she may keep that private. Therefore, while it is helpful to keep a specific traumatic event in mind, do not discount PTSD simply because you are not aware of any trauma.

Does your loved one seem to experience flashbacks, nightmares, or night terrors?

PTSD is often indicated by instances of persistent, involuntary re-experiencing of the trauma. Flashbacks are the sudden, unsolicited reliving of an event, which a person does not recognize as a memory and feels like it is happening in “real time.” Nightmares, as we all know, are bad and disturbing dreams. Night terrors, on the other hand, are characterized by extreme terror and a temporary inability to regain full consciousness, even if someone else is trying vigorously to wake the person. Gasping, moaning, screaming, and even sudden, occasionally violent motions can accompany a night terror. One of the main difficulties of night terrors, as well as flashbacks or nightmares, is that the person often does not remember it.

Does your loved one continually avoid certain topics, places, people, and things that might recall a trauma?

Whether you are aware of a traumatic event or not, pay careful attention if you notice a loved one going to unusual lengths to avoid something on a consistent basis over a pronounced period of time or if he or she seems to have severe gaps in their memory. We all have things we prefer not to discuss or might not remember, so this really is a matter of degrees. If it seems unusual or excessive, then there is probably reasonable cause for concern.

Is your loved one suddenly exhibiting unfamiliar behaviors and emotions?

When PTSD is present there are two categories of symptoms-avoidance symptoms, which were partially addressed above, and hyperarousal symptoms. Hyperarousal symptoms include being unusually angry, extraordinarily tense and easily startled, and being hypervigilant. If someone seems always edgy and on alert, and is taking extreme precautionary measures, this is a strong indicator that person is suffering from PTSD. Changes in sleeping and eating habits as well as sudden emotional outbursts are also hyperarousal symptoms.

Avoidance symptoms are not limited to literal avoidance and memory issues. If your loved one seems depressed or withdrawn and has lost interest in things that were enjoyable and/or important in the past, then they are exhibiting avoidance symptoms. Substance abuse, including excessive cigarette smoking, drinking, and drug use, is another form of avoidance, as well.

How long have you noticed your loved one’s distress and unusual behavior?

There are actually three types of stress disorders: acute, chronic, and delayed-onset. Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) occurs over a brief period of time, no more than a few weeks. If these symptoms persist for thirty days or more, however, the anxiety disorder is categorized as chronic and diagnosed as PTSD. If significant time has passed between the event and the manifestation of symptoms, usually weeks or months, it is considered delayed onset, and usually, but not exclusively, involves PTSD.

If it sounds like a nightmarish way to live, it is, and because of their compromised coping skills, PTSD sufferers often do not have the wherewithal or foresight to approach their condition in a healthy way and instead try to alleviate their pain and distress through substance abuse. While it may seem to provide momentary relief, this form of self-medication actually aggravates PTSD and worsens the situation. While some will recognize this cycle and that will compel them to seek a more effective and healthy approach, more often than not, they will increase their consumption leading to a severe chemical dependency issue.

While this is a difficult set of circumstances for both the PTSD sufferer and those around him or her, there is hope, if you seek the help and support of professionals who are equipped to assess and effectively address the situation. Most rehabilitation programs have developed a combined approach that treats PTSD and chemical dependency successfully. While we cannot prevent trauma from occurring, we can lessen its impact and promote healing and recovery.

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