June is National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month, dedicated to raising public awareness about this potentially debilitating condition, reducing the stigma associated with PTSD and related mental illnesses and ensuring people living with this disorder know how to get help.
PTSD Can Be Devastating
Though PTSD disproportionately affects military veterans, anyone can develop symptoms after a frightening or dangerous experience. In most cases, PTSD symptoms emerge soon after the triggering event, but it can sometimes take months or even years for somebody to start displaying a trauma response.
Millions of Americans live with PTSD and its associated symptoms, which can include:
- Vivid flashbacks and nightmares
- Hyperarousal, or an inability to relax even in familiar surroundings
- Severe anxiety and avoidance
- Acute emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event
- Negative thoughts
- Memory issues
- Hopelessness about the future
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships or experiencing positive emotions
- Feeling detached or numb
- Self-destructive or reckless behavior
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
A mental health professional can diagnose you with PTSD if ongoing issues like these are severe enough to disrupt your quality of life.
Why Do People Get PTSD?
Any experience that profoundly affects you can have a long-lasting ripple effect on your life, but we still don’t understand why some people develop PTSD and others don’t. If you have another mental health disorder, or if issues like depression and anxiety run in your family, a traumatic event might be more likely to stay with you.
Humans evolved with an instinctive fight-or-flight response that allows us to react quickly in response to a perceived danger. With this innate reaction, your body will release stress hormones like adrenaline, which should return to their baseline levels once the threat has passed. However, people with PTSD constantly produce high amounts of fight-or-flight hormones, putting them on edge even when they are not at risk.
How PTSD Changes the Brain
Researchers continue to learn more about the brain changes caused by PTSD, including your fear response, emotions and decision-making abilities. Brain scans of people living with PTSD show differences in the amygdala, prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, which govern rational thought, clear thinking and memory.
Some experts have suggested that PTSD could result from an overactive survival mechanism. For example, constantly reliving the event through flashbacks and nightmares may be your brain’s way of preparing you to respond if something similar happens to you again. Furthermore, the hyperarousal associated with PTSD might help you react quickly in another crisis. Ultimately, these are counterproductive because they prevent you from processing your experiences and moving on.
Treatment for PTSD and Substance Abuse
Many people who develop substance use disorders also have PTSD, and vice versa. In the absence of healthy coping mechanisms, drugs and alcohol can provide temporary relief that helps survivors of traumatic experiences ease the pain they feel.
Unfortunately, as the effects of the substance wear off, stress levels and PTSD symptoms will become more severe. PTSD can also worsen withdrawal symptoms, making it more challenging to stop drinking or using.
When you have PTSD, the world can seem dangerous and threatening. At Hope by the Sea, we offer therapy and trauma-focused treatment to help you recover and lead a full, healthy life. Contact us today to learn about the specialty tracks we offer at our family-owned California rehab center.