What is PTSD? Understanding the Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment Options

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When we think of PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder), typically our first association is with combat war veterans. Although veterans are disproportionately affected by PTSD, the truth is that this psychiatric disorder can occur in anyone at any time, regardless of age, gender, occupation, race, or ethnicity. The effects of PTSD change the brain and often lead to other mental disorders such as substance abuse, depression, and addiction.

You can never properly prepare for or predict when a traumatic event happens to you, or how to deal with the after-effects of trauma on your daily life. What you can control is understanding the causes and symptoms behind PTSD and how it may have led to your struggle with addiction. From there, it’s vital to learn what you can do to grow, heal, and find freedom on the road to recovery.

PTSD: The Facts

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that occurs after a person experiences or witnesses a traumatic event, a series of events, or a set of circumstances that leads to mental, emotional, and sometimes even physical harm to their health and well-being. An estimated six out of every 100 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime. This disorder affects approximately 5% of adults in the United States every year.

Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from PTSD, partly due to traumatic events that disproportionately affect women, such as rape, assault, and other forms of sexual trauma. African-Americans, U.S. Latinos, and Native Americans are disproportionately affected by PTSD as well when compared to non-Latino whites, due to causes such as historical trauma, racial trauma, and socioeconomic trauma.

Causes of PTSD

Sudden crises can happen to people that are especially terrible or frightening, which can cause trauma. After a traumatic event, a person will typically think, feel, and even act differently than they did before the trauma occurred. There are several causes of PTSD, which stem from a wide variety of stressful events and situations.

Common causes of PTSD include:

  • A serious accident (such as a car accident or house fire)
  • A natural disaster (such as a flood or earthquake)
  • Physical assault or abuse
  • Sexual assault or abuse
  • A war
  • Terrorism (such as a mass shooting)
  • Witnessing a death or serious injury occur
  • Having a loved one die through homicide or suicide
  • Bullying

Traumatic events can happen by simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Trauma can also present as a series of events or situations occurring through a long period of time, directly inflicted by a loved one or a complete stranger. There are several different circumstances and situations that can lead to PTSD, but they are all similar in their presenting symptoms and necessary treatment. No matter what happened to you or when, your trauma is valid.

Symptoms of PTSD

Although the symptoms of PTSD can vary from individual to individual, typically their symptoms fall into the following four categories:

  1. Intrusion - Intrusive thoughts such as disturbing nightmares and uncontrolled repetitive memories. Flashbacks of the traumatic event can occur, in which the person feels like they are seeing or reliving the event again. Sounds, sights, and other sensory memories can trigger these flashbacks.
  2. Avoidance - Avoiding people, places, activities, and situations that can trigger memories of the trauma that occurred. The person will try to forget that the tragedy ever happened by pushing the event out of their mind, in an attempt to avoid thinking and talking about it.
  3. Changes in reactivity - The person experiences a change in their moods and reactive state. They may become more irritable, easily startled, prone to emotional outbursts, suspicious, and paranoid. They also may behave in a more reckless and self-destructive manner than they did before the trauma occurred.
  4. Changes in cognition - The person’s cognitive abilities change as a result of the traumatic event. This can include not being able to remember important aspects of how the event occurred, distorted thoughts such as self-blame, and feeling detached from others or society as a whole. The person can experience ongoing negative emotions such as shame, fear, anger, and guilt, as well as feeling numb, in a void, or completely unable to experience any positive emotions.


Specific symptoms listed above have varying degrees of severity and typically occur in the days following the traumatic event. However, for a person to be diagnosed with PTSD, these symptoms must occur for more than a month and have substantial effects on the person’s daily life and well-being. This is typically why people who suffer from PTSD tend to experience symptoms for months and even years. What’s more, this disorder usually leads to other mental health conditions such as depression, memory issues, and substance abuse.

Treatment Options for PTSD

Although each person’s pain is unique and individual to them, a traumatic event — and the PTSD that follows — is often found to be a root cause of addiction. Since these two disorders often go hand-in-hand, usually referred to as co-curring disorders or dual diagnoses, it is imperative to treat both disorders at the same time.

At Country Road Recovery Center, our trauma-informed rehab team specializes in co-curring disorders, creating a specialized treatment plan for you to fully focus on yourself and start a new path of healing. Residential addiction treatment is often recommended to tackle substance abuse as well as other underlying issues such as PTSD or depression. This is the best way to address all of your mental struggles at once, ensuring that you build a strong path to lasting recovery.

Do not let your trauma define you. You deserve to no longer suffer from the pain of your trauma or be ashamed about it. Contact us today to learn how we can help you heal.