Why Doesn\’t My Brain Know I\’m Not In Danger Anymore Following a Traumatic Event?

For those who are not familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, it is a mental health disorder whereby individuals constantly relive traumatic events that they have either witnessed or experienced first-hand. And they are quite common in the United States. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the largest grassroots mental health organization in the country, some 9 million Americans report struggling with PTSD. Of those, 37 percent describe their symptoms as severe. While men and women both struggle with PTSD, the disorder is far more common among women.

PTSD and Substance Abuse

PTSD and substance abuse, unfortunately, tend to go hand-in-hand for many people insofar as many will turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with their symptoms. These individuals are said to have what is known as a co-occurring disorder, a condition whereby an individual is simultaneously struggling with an existing mental illness and a substance use problem. The term is also commonly used to denote a struggle with two or more mental health disorders, such as PTSD and depression, for example. Similar to PTSD, women are more likely to struggle with a co-occurring disorder.

According to a study published by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, women who struggle with PTSD are 2.48 percent more likely to abuse alcohol. Conversely, men with the disorder are 2.06 percent more likely to do the same. While consuming alcohol does provide temporary relief from PTSD-related symptoms, many individuals end up developing an alcohol use disorder. Many individuals with PTSD will also turn to cocaine, marijuana, and other illicit drugs to self-medicate, which, much like alcohol, also gives way to addiction.

What You Should Know About PTSD Symptoms

When it comes to PTSD, the onset of symptoms is different for everyone. For example, some individuals might find that they experience PTSD symptoms within only one month of witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. Meanwhile, others might not experience symptoms until after one year has passed. Either way, PTSD symptoms are grouped into four specific categories, which include intrusive memories, avoidance, negative thinking and mood changes, and the development of new emotional and physical responses to certain events. To put into context the extent to which these symptoms can impact one\’s life, let\’s take a closer look at them individually:

Intrusive memories – For many people, intrusive memories are the worse part of struggling with PTSD.  When it comes to PTSD, intrusive memories are recurring and often unsettling memories that stem from a past traumatic event.  These memories can be in the form of flashbacks during the day or terrifying dreams while sleeping.

Avoidance – Individuals who have struggled with PTSD long enough are well aware of the things, people, and events that can trigger intrusive memories. As such, they often go out of their way to avoid them.  And while avoidance might be an effective way of preventing intrusive memories, doing so also often leads to feelings of isolation.

Negative thinking and mood changes – Not surprisingly, PTSD can dramatically change an individual\’s thinking and overall mood. These changes can bring about the following in some individuals:

  • Feeling hopeless
  • Being unable to focus
  • Memory problems
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Low self-esteem
  • Marked feelings of misanthropy

Changes in emotional and physical reactions – Along with negative thinking and mood changes, PTSD can also change how individuals respond emotionally and physically to certain things that take place in their life.  Some of these changes include becoming easily frightened, difficulty sleeping, irritability, and engaging in self-destructive behaviors.

How PTSD Leads to Co-occurring disorders

More often than not, the various symptoms associated with PTSD either contribute to or intensify feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation, and even suicidal ideations. To combat these negative feelings, many people will start abusing drugs and alcohol, which invariably leads them down a path of addiction. But it doesn\’t have to be this way as there are plenty of treatments available that can help individuals who have had their lives upended by PTSD. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, some of the prescription-based medications that are effective in resolving PTSD-related symptoms include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Cognitive-behavioral therapy and other forms of psychotherapy can help as well. All of these treatments help rewire an individual\’s brain in such a way that they begin to recognize that past traumatic events no longer pose a danger.

Bottom Line

In summary, PTSD is a mental health disorder that can significantly disrupt an individual\’s life by forcing them to relive past traumatic events that they would rather forget. However, with the right treatments, it is entirely possible to overcome this disorder and the substance abuse problem that so often goes along with it. To learn more about PTSD or to find a treatment facility in your area, consider scheduling a consultation with one of our mental health experts today at 833-610-1174.

Fill out the form below, and we will be in touch shortly.
Max. file size: 32 MB.
Max. file size: 32 MB.