What do car accidents, military combat, and sexual abuse have in common? Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by traumatic experiences like these. And recognizing PTSD symptoms is crucial for seeking help. 

Affecting 3.5% of U.S. adults each year, PTSD changes brain chemistry, much like substance abuse and addiction. Both PTSD and addiction alter how the brain processes stress and reward. This is why these two commonly occur with one another. In fact, people with PTSD are 14 times more likely to have a substance use disorder.

To help treat PTSD (and addiction), awareness of the most common symptoms is essential. This blog will outline these signs to help you recognize and understand PTSD better.

PTSD and addiction

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Common PTSD Symptoms

As stated, PTSD and addiction often go hand in hand. As one disorder exacerbates the impact of the other and vice versa, it’s vital to understand each other’s symptoms. In this section, we’ll mainly discuss the symptoms of PTSD — from intrusive memories to re-experiencing the trauma.

Intrusive Memories

As its name implies, “intrusive memories” is a broad term encompassing various experiences of remembering trauma. These may come in the form of flashbacks, nightmares, and distressing memories. 

Flashbacks make you feel like you’re reliving the traumatic event in real time. These episodes can be so vivid and intense that they transport you back to the original trauma. 

Meanwhile, nightmares frequently disturb sleep, which can lead to chronic fatigue and anxiety. These nightmares can either replay the traumatic event or present symbolic representations of the trauma. 

Distressing memories can intrude without warning. And all of these can trigger your autonomic nervous system and activate the “flight, fight, or freeze” response. As a result, you may experience increased breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.

PTSD recovery

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Avoidance Behaviors

Avoidance, one of the most common PTSD symptoms, can manifest in various ways. For instance, you may avoid distressing thoughts, feelings, or memories of the traumatic event. You may also stay away from people, places, situations, or anything else associated with the trauma.

While it’s human nature to avoid reminders of the trauma, this avoidance can eventually lead to emotional numbing and detachment. 

Avoiding triggers brings short-term relief but teaches your brain that these triggers and the sensations they cause are dangerous and intolerable. Ultimately, the more you avoid anxiety-inducing situations, the more intense your anxiety and avoidance behaviors become.

Negative Changes in Thinking and Mood

PTSD also often leads to persistent negative thoughts and feelings of hopelessness. These thoughts can cloud judgment and dampen motivation, making recovery seem out of reach. 

Negative thoughts can include self-blame, guilt, or shame. These thoughts often stem from traumatic experiences and can become overwhelming. They can lead to a constant state of fear or anxiety.

When all these negativities pile up, it can cause you to feel hopeless. It creates a sense of despair and a belief that things will never improve. It also can result in a lack of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can also cause difficulties in maintaining relationships and functioning in daily life.

With such negative emotions overwhelming PTSD patients, it doesn’t come as a surprise that about half of individuals with PTSD also experience Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). Depression, marked by a low mood, loss of interest and pleasure, and changes in energy levels, often arises after traumatic events. The overlap of PTSD and depression symptoms can make it challenging for individuals like you to find relief.

Memory problems

PTSD can affect memory in two primary ways. As you already learned, it can cause vivid flashbacks. On the other hand, it can also lead to increased forgetfulness, decreased working memory, and overall difficulty with short-term and long-term memory.

One reason PTSD may impact memory is that trauma can cause changes in areas of the brain related to stress response and memory. These include the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. 

Now, memory problems aren’t just a symptom — they are a significant hurdle in PTSD recovery. If you struggle to recall important details of the traumatic event, it can lead to confusion and frustration, which can disrupt your daily life and complicate the healing process.

Memory issues are also often accompanied by emotional numbness and changes in physical and emotional reactions. Emotional numbness can make it difficult to connect with others or feel positive emotions.

Meanwhile, changes in your physical and emotional reactions — such as heightened startle responses or irritability — can further interfere with memory and concentration. It can negatively affect your ability to focus on tasks or retain new information.

PTSD recovery

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Hypervigilance

Hypervigilance is one of the more challenging PTSD symptoms. It often leads to heightened alertness and sensitivity to potential threats. This constant state of readiness can result in several related issues.

Irritability and Anger Outbursts

Living in a heightened state of alertness can make you more prone to irritability and anger outbursts. These emotional reactions can strain relationships and disrupt your daily routines.

Difficulty Sleeping

Hypervigilance often makes sleeping difficult, as your mind remains alert even at night. This can lead to chronic fatigue, which exacerbates other PTSD symptoms.

Concentration Issues

When you’re hypervigilant, it can also impair your ability to concentrate. This affects your productivity and overall performance — whether at work, school, or home.

Physical Symptoms

Hypervigilance can manifest in physical symptoms, such as headaches and chest pains. These symptoms add to the overall discomfort and distress.

Re-experiencing the Trauma

Re-experiencing your trauma involves facing a great deal of psychological distress. When you re-experience the trauma, you might feel overwhelming fear, anxiety, or sadness. These intense emotions can make it difficult to engage in daily activities and maintain a sense of normalcy. 

However, it’s not just the psychological distress that can be harrowing. Apart from this, re-experiencing the trauma can also cause physical reactions. These might include sweating, a racing heart, or even feeling sick to your stomach. Such responses are your body’s way of reacting to perceived danger — even if the threat is not present.

Recognizing and addressing the symptoms of re-experiencing the trauma is essential for effective PTSD treatment. By understanding these reactions, you can take steps toward managing them and ultimately overcoming the trauma.

PTSD

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Overcoming PTSD

Knowing what you’re facing is an important part of winning the battle. If you’ve been experiencing intrusive memories, avoidance behaviors, negative changes in thinking and mood, memory problems, hypervigilance, and re-experiencing trauma — then you have a high likelihood of having PTSD.

These can deeply impact your daily life. However, recognizing common PTSD symptoms, as mentioned, is crucial for seeking help. At Oregon Trail Recovery, we offer trusted recovery programs in Portland to help you treat both PTSD and addiction. Overcome your trauma and embrace a sober life — reach out today!