Symptoms Of PTSD In Adults (Plus Treatment Options)
Over 70% of adults living in the United States have gone through some type of traumatic event, according to the National Council on Behavioral Health. Traumatic events often manifest in post-traumatic stress disorder, more commonly known as PTSD. PTSD is a mental health disorder that can cause deep feelings of fear, the tendency to be easily startled, and a history of trauma, whether occurring in daily life or due to a one-time circumstance like a natural disaster. PTSD images often stay with the individual, and treatment for this can be helpful. It's also important to understand the differences in PTSD symptoms in women and men, the challenges of delayed onset PTSD, and which treatment options work best.
PTSD Symptoms & Signs
The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in adults may occur immediately after the event, or they can emerge at some time later. Many people tend to connect posttraumatic stress disorder in adults with flashbacks after a traumatic event, but there can be more to PTSD than that. Certain situations may trigger your senses, and they can cause you to become stressed and hypervigilant. You may feel detached too. You could have constant negative thoughts about yourself or the trauma that occurred. It may be difficult to feel any positive emotions. Other mental disorders can also be concurrent with post-traumatic stress disorder. Even further, PTSD causes physical symptoms or physical sensations in many people, not just mental health problems.
If you’re experiencing PTSD that comes with severe stress, problems with substance use, hypervigilance, flashbacks, angry outbursts, or other symptoms, you don’t have to continue feeling like you’re constantly on the edge. By recognizing all the symptoms and feelings related to PTSD and being open to trying different treatments, you stand a good chance of returning to a more normal life. Talking with a competent therapist to address PTSD DSM 5 criteria will help you learn more about your condition.
Do I Have A Stress Disorder Or PTSD?
PTSD falls into the category of stress disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event develops PTSD or needs treatment. Other types of traumatic stress can occur without evolving into PTSD. You can also have a different type of PTSD called Complex PTSD.
Acute Stress Disorder
Acute stress disorder, or ASD (not to be confused with autism spectrum disorder), is another type of traumatic stress disorder that occurs in some people after a traumatic event. If symptoms of traumatic stress appear for less than a month, you may have an acute stress disorder and not PTSD. Either way, it’s important to take your symptoms seriously, especially if you’re experiencing intrusive memories.
According to an article written by John W. Barnhill MD, symptoms of ASD are unpleasant, intense, and may cause you to experience difficulty functioning normally. Most often, symptoms begin shortly after experiencing a traumatic event. If symptoms persist beyond a month, you may get a diagnosis of PTSD.
The chances of treatment and recovery from Acute Stress Disorder are optimistic once you’ve been removed from the situation that caused your traumatic stress. It is easier for victims of traumatic stress to recover when they have the benefit of appropriate support.
Many people find that it reduces their traumatic stress and intrusive memories when they have opportunities to talk about it over and over in a safe treatment environment. It’s helpful to surround yourself with empathetic friends or loved ones. If you don’t have the opportunity to discuss your traumatic experience with close friends or family, your doctors or other healthcare professionals make good sounding boards. Complex PTSD symptoms and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms can include trouble sleeping and other physical signs like stomach aches.
What Types Of Traumatic Events Lead To PTSD?
For many people living with PTSD, the stress disorder was caused by a first-hand, direct experience such as a serious injury, violence, or the threat of death. It doesn’t always happen that way, though. Exposure to a traumatic event can occur indirectly, as well. For example, if you have experienced someone dying or you’ve witnessed a tragic event that happened to someone else, those are indirect exposures to traumatic events that can just as seriously affect your mental health.
Symptoms Of PTSD In Adults
There are more than a dozen symptoms of PTSD in adults, and they fall into three main types of traumatic stress symptoms:
Having flashbacks, nightmares, or mentally re-experiencing the traumatic event up to a few weeks after the event
Feeling numb, avoiding things that remind you of the traumatic event, and feeling disassociated
Having increased mental and emotional arousal may cause you to have difficulty sleeping or concentrating. You may feel jumpy, irritated, or angry. Angry outbursts are sometimes common in PTSD.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), your doctor may diagnose you with PTSD if your traumatic stress symptoms affect you for more than a month after experiencing a traumatic event. Symptoms of traumatic stress may not affect you until months or years down the line. The same traumatic stress symptoms that apply to PTSD in adults also apply to adolescents and children older than six years of age and also respond to treatment.
For a diagnosis of PTSD, the causes of traumatic stress include:
Directly experiencing a traumatic event
Witnessing a traumatic event in person
Learning that a traumatic event occurred to a close family or close friend where there was an actual threat of death that was violent or accidental
Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to the adverse accounts of a traumatic event
For example, stress-related symptoms that affect mental health are common in first responders such as police officers, firefighters, and medical personnel. These professionals deal with life and death situations regularly. ADAA notes that mental health disorders related to stress disorders don’t apply to those who experience traumatic stress as a result of exposure to electronic media, television, movies, or photos unless the stress disorder is related to their jobs.
To be classified as PTSD, one or more of the following symptoms of traumatic stress must be present in the first category of a stress disorder:
Spontaneously having recurrent, involuntary memories that cause traumatic stress that is intrusive and distressing (ADAA adds that children express traumatic stress by acting out the traumatic event repeatedly during play, which shows its significant impact.)
Having dreams that cause traumatic stress and stir emotions related to the event (Children may experience traumatic stress after having scary dreams they don’t understand.)
Having flashbacks or other traumatic stress reactions where you feel the traumatic event is reoccurring
Having intense distress for a prolonged period that affects your mental health
Having physiological responses or mental arousal symptoms when something triggers a memory of the traumatic event
To be classified as PTSD, one or more of the following PTSD symptoms of traumatic stress must be present from the second category of a stress disorder:
Not being able to remember significant details from the traumatic event (This may be due to having a head injury or due to being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.)
Having persistent, negative, and exaggerated thoughts about yourself, others, or the world that prevents you from feeling happiness
Continually blaming yourself or someone else about why the traumatic event occurred
Having feelings of fear, horror, anger, shame, or guilt that persistently affect your mental health
Not feeling up to participating in activities that you formerly enjoyed
Having feelings that you are detached from others, even friends and family
To be diagnosed with PTSD, your mental health must also be affected by at least two symptoms from the third category of symptoms of a stress disorder, which includes:
Constantly feeling irritable or showing aggressive behavior
Acting out in a reckless or self-destructive manner
Feeling hypervigilant and on edge
Having an exaggerated startle response
Having problems concentrating
Not being able to fall asleep or experiencing restlessness in sleep
The ADAA adds that stress disorders can also be attributed to having impaired social or occupational function that isn’t related to the direct effects of prescribed medications, alcohol, or drugs. Stress disorders can also be caused by other types of medical conditions and risk factors such as traumatic brain injury.
Treatment For PTSD In Adults
There is no cure for PTSD symptoms in women and men. Still, many treatments are available for PTSD and other types of stress disorders that have been proven to relieve symptoms. Most of the effective treatments for PTSD and other stress disorders fall into the category of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
CBT treatment consists of exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring. Your therapist may include some combination of the following treatments for PTSD:
Cognitive processing therapy
Prolonged exposure therapy
Stress inoculation training
Internal Family Systems (IFS therapy)
Sexual assault therapy
Spiritual or faith-based therapy
Some people who live with PTSD also find that present-centered therapy and support groups are effective treatment options in reducing symptoms of stress disorders.
A traumatic event can happen to anyone. According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD can develop in many different people for various reasons. The symptoms of PTSD and other stress or anxiety disorders can negatively impact your life, work, and relationships. Treatment and emotional support are available from mental health professionals.
The symptoms of PTSD can sometimes make seeking out therapy difficult, especially in person. You may feel embarrassed or ashamed about your disorder, for example. Or you might fear experiencing PTSD symptoms in public. In these cases, online therapy might be a more feasible option. With internet-based counseling, you don’t have to leave home to talk to a mental health professional. This type of treatment may also be more convenient since appointment times are available day and night.
If you feel like you need support, the staff at BetterHelp can match you to a licensed professional. Through talk therapy, you can get on the road to recovery. Find help today.
Other Commonly Asked Questions:
What are the 5 signs of PTSD?
Some of the biggest signs of a traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are struggling with substance use, difficulty finding an effective treatment for symptoms, hypervigilance, anxiety, and emotional issues. Other mental health problems are commonly diagnosed before PTSD, even when it is the main issue. You may be diagnosed with a mental health condition that doesn’t seem to fit you at all, and it can take time to find PTSD treatment that works.
If you’ve found that your current health care providers don’t take you seriously, or you’re not feeling that you’re getting your PTSD treated, it might be time to look into other treatments to manage symptoms.
Can you have PTSD and not know it?
You can absolutely have post-traumatic stress disorder and not know it. PTSD is a very undiagnosed mental illness. Some people think you can only develop PTSD if you are a combat veteran. Although many combat veterans do develop PTSD, anyone can.
Read more about PTSD and its symptoms on the American Psychiatric Association’s site.
What are PTSD triggers?
Just like any mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder doesn’t present the same for every person. One person may be triggered by substance abuse ads and another may be triggered by a certain smell that reminds them of their childhood home. As a traumatic stress disorder, PTSD doesn’t have a lot of logic. It develops depending on the specific trauma of the person who has it.
Many people experiencing this mental illness will go through traumatic event avoidance symptoms, meaning they may try to avoid anything that could possibly cause them to be exposed to their trigger again.
Some examples of common triggers are below:
- A 23-year-old woman has PTSD from being abused by her family. Her dad was heavy into substance use as a child, and her mom struggled with intense suicidal thoughts. As an adult, she is pushed into family therapy with her parents, and she feels like she is experiencing the trauma all over again.
- A 70-year-old combat veteran has reached out to several support groups to try to find community. He has also signed up for an information service to get more info on his traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. Unfortunately, in the process, he sees many photos of combat soldiers and starts to get extremely distressing images in his mind and no longer wants to attend the support groups.
- As an adult, a 30-year-old woman has started to struggle with substance abuse. She does so to try to rid her mind of past abuse from her parents, who also struggled with substance use. Due to her trauma, every time she partakes in substance use, she remembers the abuse she faced, and she feels extreme shame.
Note: If you are a veteran, there is a veterans crisis line available in the US 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. You can also chat with them online.
How does a person with PTSD act?
People with PTSD can act in a variety of ways. The National Institute of Mental Health notes that to be diagnosed with PTSD, you must have at least 6 symptoms from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM 5). However, not every person with PTSD has the same exact symptoms or experiences the same exact fears or flashbacks.
One person with PTSD may struggle with substance abuse or regular substance use, while another may struggle more with inner thoughts, suicidal thoughts, and seeking treatment. There is nothing wrong with whatever way you experience your condition, but make sure to speak to a counselor if you’re unsure about your diagnosis. Support groups are also available for those who want to speak to others who understand. Family therapy is a good option if your family is not the cause of your trauma. Otherwise, it may be best for you to try another type of treatment.
What resources are available for PTSD?
The National Center for PTSD has some great resources for anyone experiencing PTSD. However, they do focus heavily on veteran care. You can find treatment options for substance use and substance abuse on their site, as well as information about symptoms of PTSD through their free information service.
The National Center for PTSD covers support options for families and friends of those experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder as well in their information service. If you are interested in learning more, check out the National Center for PTSD at their contact email: email@example.com.
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