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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

June 14, 2021 (Originally Published)

January 11, 2024 (Last Updated)

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Post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the most common types of mental health disorders that affect those with an addiction, but what is PTSD caused by?

To get a better understanding of how PTSD works and how it can affect you or your loved one, let’s learn more about this mental illness and how you can get help from a mental health IOP that offers treatment for PTSD.

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What is PTSD Caused By?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur if you witness a traumatic event that leaves you feeling helpless, shocked, or scared. 

There is no fixed definition for what constitutes a traumatic event. There are, though, many examples of situations or circumstances that lead to PTSD developing. These include: 

  •     Rape and sexual assault
  •     Car crashes
  •     Kidnapping
  •     Abuse, harassment, and bullying
  •     Violence in military combat
  •     Witnessing terrorist attacks
  •     Exposure to traumatic events at work in certain professions
  •     Seeing others killed in the line of work (secondary trauma)
  •     Surviving a natural disaster
  •     Being diagnosed with a fatal condition
  •     Traumatic childbirth
  •     Losing a loved one in distressing circumstances
  •     Being treated in a mental health facility
  •     Pandemics like COVID-19

Many things can cause PTSD from war atrocities, crimes, and fires to car wrecks, deaths of loved ones, and abuse in various forms. In fact, many first responders suffer from PTSD symptoms.

Post-traumatic stress disorder can have long-term effects, including disrupted sleep patterns, flashbacks, and generalized anxiety. Thoughts and memories of the event persist long after it has passed and the anger dissipated. Rather than feeling better over time, PTSD sufferers often become ever more fearful and anxious. 

It’s believed around 8% of the population in the United States will suffer from PTSD at some stage in life. Women are at heightened risk. 

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The good news, though, is that even if your life has been disrupted by severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, help is at hand. 

Symptoms of PTSD fall under four broad categories: 

  •     Intrusion symptoms
  •     Avoidance symptoms
  •     Arousal and reactivity symptoms
  •     Cognition and mood-related symptoms

Intrusion symptoms 

  •     Troubling, detailed flashbacks
  •     Nightmares
  •     Intrusive images and thoughts
  •     Sweating, trembling, nausea, or generalized pain
  •     Distress when reminded of the trauma

Avoidance symptoms 

  •     Emotional numbness
  •     Avoiding anything related to the trauma
  •     Inability to recall details of the traumatic event
  •     Feelings of detachment
  •     Problems expressing affection
  •     Self-medicating with drink or drugs
  •     Engaging in reckless behaviors

Arousal and reactivity symptoms 

  •     Extreme alertness
  •     Aggressive behavior
  •     Irritability
  •     Being easily upset
  •     Panicking if reminded of the trauma
  •     Problems with focus
  •     Outward symptoms of anxiety
  •     Being easily spooked
  •     Difficulty sleeping

Cognition and mood-related symptoms 

  •     Feeling as if nowhere is safe
  •     Difficulty trusting people
  •     Believing that nobody understands
  •     Feelings of shame, guilt, anger, and sadness
  •     Blaming yourself for the trauma 

Beyond these clusters of symptoms, you may also experience physical symptoms not included in the criteria for PTSD laid down in DSM-5. These include: 

  •     Headaches
  •     Dizziness
  •     Aches and pains
  •     Stomach upsets
  •     Sweating
  •     Shaking
  •     Chest pain
  •     Weakened immune system 

Also, PTSD can trigger long-term behavioral changes, creating problems at home, work, or school. These issues can lead to great stress in interpersonal relationships. Problems with alcohol abuse or substance abuse are commonplace. 

Symptoms of PTSD typically start within three months of the traumatic event. This is not always the case, and symptoms often manifest much later than this. 

To be formally diagnosed with PTSD, you’ll need to meet the criteria set out in the fifth edition of DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) published by the APA (American Psychological Association). 

The guidelines in DSM-5 pertaining to PTSD state that the following conditions must be met: 

The person has been exposed to death or the threat of death, serious injury, or sexual violence, either directly or by witnessing the event.

The person must also experience the following for longer than four weeks: 1+ intrusion symptom, 1+ avoidance symptom, 2+ arousal and reactivity symptoms, and 2+ cognition and mood-related symptoms. 

As well as the laundry list of negative outcomes above, PTSD can also cause problems in the following areas: 

  • Taking care of yourself
  • Maintaining friendships
  • Holding down a job
  • Maintaining a relationship
  • Decision-making
  • Remembering things
  • Libido
  • Enjoying yourself
  • Dealing with change 

PTSD also commonly co-occurs with mental health conditions from anxiety and depression to dissociative disorders, self-harm, and suicidal ideation.

What Causes PTSD in Children?

Some common events that can trigger PTSD in children include: 

  • Something bad happened to the child
  • Something bad happened to one of the child’s loved ones
  • Something bad the child saw 

The above can take the same form as events that trigger PTSD in adults, from car wrecks and physical or sexual abuse to invasive medical procedures and emotional abuse. 

Now for the good news: PTSD is treatable.

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PTSD Treatment at Renaissance Recovery

Experiencing symptoms like anxiety, crying, and problems with focus are commonplace after witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event, but this doesn’t always translate to post-traumatic stress disorder. 

If you suspect you could be suffering from PTSD, getting the appropriate treatment promptly is vital for a quick and full recovery. 

You should consider engaging with treatment if: 

  •     Your symptoms persist for a month or more
  •     These symptoms are severe enough to disrupt your daily living
  •     You are considering harming yourself 

The most effective form of treating PTSD is a combination of: 

  •     Medication and/or
  •     Psychotherapy 

Since PTSD affects everyone differently, it’s vital to find a personalized treatment plan that accounts for your specific trauma. 

If you are experiencing PTSD as a result of an ongoing trauma – an abusive relationship, for instance – this needs to be addressed as part of your treatment. Allowing the root cause of the problem to continue unchecked is a recipe for disaster. Other ongoing problems are depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, and panic disorders. 

The most well-researched medication for treating the symptoms of PTSD are antidepressants. These can help control some of the more wearing symptoms such as depression, anger, worry, and numbness. 

Other medications can be used to treat sleeping disturbances and nightmares. 

Psychotherapy or talk therapy can effectively treat PTSD symptoms. 

Sessions take place in individual or group settings over six to twelve weeks or more. 

Many different types of psychotherapy can be beneficial for PTSD sufferers. Some forms of therapy directly target PTSD symptoms. Others focus on social problems and work-related issues. Sometimes, different forms of therapy can be delivered in combination. 

CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is especially useful when applied to PTSD. You’ll learn how to identify triggers for PTSD symptoms, and you’ll learn healthy coping mechanisms to minimize distress. 

Part of CBT can include exposure therapy, where you are exposed to the trauma slowly and safely. This can be achieved by writing about the event or simply imagining the event. Alternatively, exposure therapy can involve visiting the scene of the trauma. 

With cognitive restructuring, your therapist will help you to reframe the traumatic event, vital if you are feeling guilt or shame for what happened, even when you know it wasn’t really your fault. 

If you have experienced a traumatic event and you feel you’re suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, we can help you here at Renaissance Recovery Center. 

By personalizing PTSD treatment programs to your precise needs, we’ll help you tackle any ongoing traumas, as well as tackling your PTSD symptoms with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. 

For anyone also struggling with alcohol use disorder or substance use disorder, our dual diagnosis treatment program helps you address this and your PTSD simultaneously. 

Start the ball rolling by calling the friendly Renaissance team at 866.330.9449.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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