PTSD Symptoms & Warning Signs

Understanding PTSD

Learn about PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that is described as the development of upsetting symptoms that come after an individual has experienced one or more traumatic events. The type of trauma that can lead to PTSD development can include sudden catastrophic medical events, military combat, natural disasters, physical assault, severe automobile accidents, and sexual violence. PTSD can develop from experiencing these events first hand, or from watching them happen to someone else.

Those with PTSD might experience recurrent upsetting memories of the traumatic event or events, have nightmares reminiscent of the trauma, and suffer from dissociative reactions (also known as flashbacks) where he or she feels like the event is happening all over again. Because of these reactions, individuals with PTSD might change their behaviors to keep clear of the events or experiences that keep the memory of their trauma fresh in their minds. They might also notice changes in their perceptions, moods, and attitudes.

When an individual is already battling a substance use disorder and develops PTSD, his or her life can become much more complex. One common thing that most of those who have PTSD do is turn to the abuse of drugs and/or alcohol to decrease the pain they have regarding their traumatic memories. When an individual has already developed a substance use disorder, his or her dependency on the drug might grow stronger, and might also be accompanied by the abuse of additional substances. While being under the influence might help an individual feel as though he or she is burying his or her pain, substance abuse will only make his or her symptoms worse and make any attempts to defeat these issues more challenging.

Those who are afflicted with both a substance use disorder and co-occurring posttraumatic stress disorder require professional help. With the appropriate care, individuals in this position can obtain relief from their symptoms, acknowledge the issues that have added to the development of both disorders, and develop healthy coping skills that will keep them solidified in their recovery.


Statistics about PTSD

Approximately 3.5% of individuals throughout the United States will develop PTSD within any 12-month period. The lifetime risk of developing this disorder is 8.7%, and the risk for developing PTSD is much greater in women than in men. The National Center for PTSD states that nearly 10% of women will develop PTSD at some point in their lives in comparison to 4% of men. Experts estimate that roughly between 20% and 43% of adults with PTSD also battle substance use disorders, which is in comparison to a substance abuse rate between 8% and 25% throughout the country. For combat veterans with PTSD, the rate of substance abuse is 75%.

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for PTSD

In order for PTSD to develop, a traumatic event must occur. However, a number of additional factors can impact an individual’s likelihood of developing this disorder following a trauma, including:

Genetic: Research shows that specific genes can increase or decrease one’s vulnerability of developing PTSD when exposed to trauma.

Environmental: Before the traumatic event occurs, environmental factors such as lower educational progress, poverty, childhood adversity, and family history of mental health conditions can all impact an individual’s chances of experiencing the onset of symptoms of PTSD following exposure to a trauma. During and after the traumatic event, aspects including the severity of the experience, additional adverse life events, continued exposure to the traumatic event, and the lack of a support system can all play a role in the development of this disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Poor coping skills
  • Prior mental health issues
  • Being younger at the time of the traumatic event or events
  • Insufficient social support
  • Experiencing interpersonal violence
  • Being female
  • Lower education level
  • Lower intelligence
  • Being a member of a minority racial or ethnic group
  • Low socioeconomic status

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of PTSD

Posttraumatic stress disorder can come to life in a number of ways depending on a handful of different factors. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of this disorder can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Engaging in substance abuse
  • Withdrawing from family or friends
  • Avoiding certain events, situations, or people
  • Reckless or otherwise self-destructive behaviors
  • Diminished participation in important activities
  • Fighting, destruction of property, and other acts of violence

Physical symptoms:

  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Hyperarousal

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Depersonalization
  • Derealization
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Vivid and disturbing nightmares
  • Memory problems
  • Recurrent distressing memories

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Persistent negative mood
  • Hypervigilance
  • Angry outbursts


Effects of PTSD

Posttraumatic stress disorder that goes untreated can have a dangerous impact on an individual’s life. Below are some of the most common negative effects that have been linked to PTSD:

  • Homelessness
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Job loss and unemployment
  • Development of additional mental health disorders
  • Family discord
  • Diminished performance at work
  • Injury to self or others due to violence or recklessness
  • Inability to establish or maintain interpersonal relationships
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Suicide attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders

Those who suffer from PTSD are at a higher risk for developing symptoms that meet the criteria for other mental health conditions. Some of the most common co-occurring disorders that can occur with PTSD can include:

  • Major neurocognitive disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorders