Understanding the Causes of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

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If your loved one has recently been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you may wonder what caused this condition. You may also have questions about what their diagnosis means for their health and well-being.

Understanding PTSD and the Risk of Co-Occurring Disorders

PTSD is a serious condition that can develop as a result of experiencing a seemingly life-threatening or otherwise traumatic event. Leaving this condition untreated can increase your loved one's risk of developing one or more co-occurring disorders. People with untreated PTSD are at higher risk of anxiety, depression, and substance use disorder (SUD).

It is imperative that your loved one receives the professional help that they need to manage this condition. Effective treatment can reduce the severity of symptoms. Additionally, it may prevent the development of co-occurring disorders.

Supporting a Loved One with PTSD

As a loved one of someone with PTSD, know that your support can play a vital role in their healing and recovery. To effectively provide support, you can learn what this condition is and what factors contribute to it.

Additionally, becoming familiar with the warning signs and symptoms of PTSD can be helpful. This can equip you to understand your loved one as they work toward lasting healing and recovery.

What Is PTSD?

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines PTSD as “a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.”

When faced with a shocking experience, your body's fight-or-flight mode will activate. As a result, your body will experience split-second changes. These changes will either prepare you to fight danger, flee from it, or freeze.

This is a natural and temporary reaction. While it is normal to feel uneasy during and following a traumatic experience, these feelings tend to subside within a few hours or days. When these symptoms do not subside, however, it may indicate the development of PTSD.

While PTSD is also a common response to trauma, its lingering effects on the body and mind are not healthy. Treatment for people with PTSD is essential.

What Is Trauma?

If your loved one has PTSD, it means that they are experiencing the long-lasting effects of trauma.

It is not uncommon for loved ones to wonder what kind of personal experience may have led to this diagnosis. After all, if you are close with this loved one, you may feel as if you already know everything about their life experiences. However, people are often hesitant to talk about trauma due to stigma or the desire not to burden their loves ones.

Alternatively, you may have an idea of what traumatic factors led to your loved one's PTSD. You may instead wonder why they haven't effectively recovered from the experience yet.

Trauma Is Subjective

First and foremost, it may help you better understand your loved one by recognizing that trauma is subjective. This means that what your loved one may perceive as a threatening situation may not be perceived by you in the same way. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) explains, “How someone responds to a traumatic experience is personal.”

You may be able to determine the severity of a trauma's effects based on the resources your loved one had when they were subjected to it. For example, the effects of unresolved childhood trauma can be particularly severe. This is because, as children, we are ill-equipped to understand or respond to traumatic situations appropriately and effectively. Therefore, such effects will be carried with us throughout adulthood until they are adequately resolved.

Types of Trauma That Can Cause PTSD

Symptoms of PTSD can worsen over time, especially if the effects of trauma are left unresolved. Your loved one may have developed PTSD from a situation that occurred months, years, or even decades ago. This condition can develop from a one-time event as well as from multiple, long-lasting, repetitive events.

SAMHSA lists several examples of traumatic events that can lead to the development of PTSD. Some of these events include, but are not limited to:

  • Parental neglect
  • Psychological, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Natural disasters
  • Witnessing or experiencing domestic violence
  • Serious accidents
  • Life-threatening illnesses
  • The sudden death of a loved one
  • Refugee and war experiences

The Danger of Leaving PTSD Untreated

If your loved one is already diagnosed with PTSD, they likely have been referred to a treatment program. However, they may be hesitant to participate.

Leaving PTSD untreated puts your loved one at risk of having their symptoms worsen over time. It also increases your loved one's risk of developing additional behavioral health concerns. In a publication titled “Trauma and Violence,” the SAMHSA explains, “Substance use, mental health conditions, and other risky behaviors have been linked with traumatic experiences."

For example, people often self-medicate their symptoms by turning to substance abuse. This is one reason untreated PTSD is linked to the development of addiction.

Further, untreated PTSD and co-occurring disorders can impair interpersonal relationships, careers, and the overall quality of your loved one's life. Fortunately, with the right tools, they can heal.

Utilizing Professional Treatment for PTSD

If your loved one has not yet begun treatment, it is your responsibility as a loved one to encourage their treatment entry and treatment engagement. It may help to educate your loved one on the potential consequences that may result from leaving PTSD untreated. Furthermore, you can offer to research different treatment programs that offer trauma-informed treatment.

If your loved one is experiencing PTSD and co-occurring addiction, they should look for a treatment program that can treat both conditions simultaneously. This will reduce the risk of your loved one relapsing. It can help your loved one stay sober while they heal from the underlying causes of their PTSD.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that can develop after you are exposed to a seemingly traumatic or life-threatening event. If your loved one's PTSD is left untreated, it can increase their risk of substance abuse and other co-occurring mental health disorders. Fortunately, treatment is available. At Pathways Recovery Center, we offer residential treatment programs for individuals seeking recovery from substance use disorder (SUD) and co-occurring disorders. We help our clients not only achieve sobriety but also overcome any underlying causes of their substance abuse, such as PTSD. We offer a whole-person approach to healing and recovery. To learn more about our facility and treatment programs, give us a call today at (888) 771-0966

Clinically reviewed by 

Moses Nasser
Dr. Moses Nasser, a double board-certified physician in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine, with expertise in holistic healing, addiction medicine, and psychiatric care, holds an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and has extensive experience in mindfulness-based customer service and medication-assisted treatment.

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