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PTSD and Ways You Can Help a Loved One in Recovery

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By: Renaissance Recovery

Medically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated: 7/1/2021

Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is a mental health condition triggered by a traumatic event.

What constitutes trauma differs from person to person, and the traumatic event may involve a real or perceived threat of death or injury.

Typical examples of traumas that lead to the development of PTSD are:

  • Military combat
  • Severe natural disasters
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Road traffic accidents
  • Industrial accidents
  • Terrorist attacks

Someone suffering from PTSD feels a sense of impending danger. Normal body responses are altered, and it’s commonplace for PTSD sufferers to feel stressed or on edge even when they are in no danger.

Post-traumatic stress disorder was formerly known as shell shock because of the rate at which the disorder affects combat veterans. The National Center for PTSD estimates that 15% of Vietnam vets and 12% of Gulf War veterans suffer from PTSD.

Despite the prevalence of PTSD among members of the military, it can happen to anyone at any time and at any age.

PTSD is caused by neuronal and chemical changes to the brain’s flight response following exposure to threatening events.

Fortunately, while PTSD can be extremely disconcerting, it’s perfectly possible to treat this condition.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Treatment

Someone exhibiting PTSD signs should seek advice from their healthcare provider.

PTSD is typically treated with medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both treatments.

Zoloft and Paxil are antidepressants approved by the FDA for treating PTSD. Other types of antidepressant, anti-anxiety drugs, or sleep aids can also be effective.

With psychotherapy like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), you’ll be encouraged to process the trauma and then change the negative patterns of thinking associated with this event.

Exposure therapy involves deliberately re-experiencing controlled elements of the traumatic event. Desensitizing yourself can reduce the intensity of the symptoms of PTSD over time.

What can you do, though, if it’s not you suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder but one of your loved ones? Read on for some handy hints on helping someone through the ongoing ordeal of PTSD.

Living with Someone Suffering from PTSD

If a loved one suffers from PTSD, you’ll be affected, too. Symptoms of PTSD can affect the whole family, and even lead to job loss and substance abuse.

However hard it might be, try not to take things personally. Your loved one has no control over what’s happening, and their nervous system is stuck on high alert. While they can’t switch these feelings off on demand, there are plenty of steps you can take to help.

How To Help a Loved One with PTSD

1. Learn as much as possible about PTSD

2. Listen closely to help your loved one heal

3. Help your loved one to anticipate and manage PTSD triggers

4. Fail to plan, plan to fail

5. Be supportive of your loved one’s treatment plan

6. Take care of your own mental health, too

1) Learn as much as possible about PTSD

PTSD is widely misunderstood, and sometimes even stigmatized.

If you have a friend or family member with PTSD, learn as much as you can about the condition, diving deeper than the signs and symptoms. Explore how PTSD can make those suffering from it feel. Read into the underpinning changes to the brain triggering the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

For those with a loved one also abusing drink or drugs, widen your investigation to also encompass addiction. The better informed you are about your loved one’s condition, the more effectively you can help them heal.

2) Listen closely to help your loved one heal

While you should never force someone with PTSD into talking about it, if they decide to share with you, be a close and receptive listener. Refrain from judgment or expectation. Make it abundantly clear you care and that you’re there to listen. And listening is the most valuable thing you can do here.

Sometimes, someone suffering from PTSD needs to repeatedly talk through the traumatic event. This can help with the healing process, so pack plenty of patience.

Also, be prepared that your loved one might talk about some things that are tough to hear. Again, remove judgment from the equation and simply listen.

3) Help your loved one to anticipate and manage PTSD triggers

Triggers are any people, places, or things that remind your loved one of the trauma and trigger a symptom of PTSD such as a flashback.

Some triggers are obvious – loud noises like gunfire, for instance. Others are more subtle. Triggers can be internal, too.

You should speak with your loved one about how they respond to triggers, and you should establish your role when they experience nightmares, panic attacks, or flashbacks. By formulating a clear plan, this can make the situation more manageable for both of you.

4) Fail to plan, plan to fail

You should extend this planning more generally so you can both better prepare for future outbreaks of PTSD symptoms.

Encourage your loved one to write down a crisis plan. Identify symptoms you can watch out for, and decide what you should do to intervene.

You should try only to offer to help in ways you feel you can manage. Don’t overlook your own needs.

5) Be supportive of your loved one’s treatment plan

Even if you’re prepared to help your loved one in any way you can, there’s every chance they’ll need professional PTSD treatment to fully recover.

Once your loved one has made the decision to engage with treatment, you should be as supportive as possible. Emphasize the many benefits of professional treatment, and tell your loved one how this will also benefit you.

6) Take care of your own mental health, too

While caring for someone suffering from PTSD is demanding, you should not neglect your own mental health.

Try to manage your stress levels and to devote enough time to self-care rather than expending all your energies on a loved one.

PTSD Treatment at Renaissance Recovery Center

If you or a loved one needs help recovering from PTSD, we have treatment programs that can help you put an end to living in constant fear.

For anyone suffering from a co-occurring substance use disorder or alcohol use disorder, our dual diagnosis treatment program will help you tackle both issues at the same time.

To get things started, contact the friendly Renaissance Recovery team at 866.330.9449.

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Pat C

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“Great staff who took the time to get to know me. They have a lot of experience in this field and have first hand experience with what I was going through. IOP is outstanding and really built up a ton of great relationships and found this program to be a ‘breath of fresh air’.”

Diana Vo, LMFT

Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country