Skip to content

How the Brain Protecting Itself Can Cause PTSD

How the Brain Protecting Itself Can Cause PTSD

Accidents, violence, sexual abuse, military service and natural disasters may all trigger PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder can be a debilitating condition for those who suffer from it. Many times an individual can feel trapped by what appears to be an irrational set of fears and anxieties, but PTSD is not an imagined condition. It is a real disorder based on the brain’s response to real experiences that caused a visceral emotional response. If you or a loved one in Des Moines is struggling with PTSD, there are many treatment methods available to help you overcome this disorder.

What Are Common Causes of PTSD?

PTSD is triggered by a terrifying event, one that leaves an indelible mark upon an individual’s psyche. While this is not an exhaustive list, some common experiences that result in PTSD are:

  • Serious road accidents
  • Sexual assaults, including attempted rapes
  • Muggings or robbery, including home invasions
  • Prolonged sexual abuse
  • Witnessing of any act of violence
  • Military service in a combat zone
  • Natural disasters

Not every individual who has one of the above experiences will develop PTSD. However, this mental condition is more common than some might think. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, nearly 8 million adults in America suffer from PTSD, and this does not include children who also have this condition. Further, 67 percent of those exposed to mass violence develop post-traumatic stress disorder, and repeated exposure to traumatic events increases the risk of having PTSD.

Researchers believe that a combination of the following factors all contribute to the relative risk of a particular individual developing PTSD in response to a given traumatic experience:

  • A personal or family history of anxiety or depression
  • The level and severity of trauma experienced in childhood and early adulthood
  • Temperament or personality traits
  • The regulation of chemicals and hormones by your brain and body in response to stressors

An individual’s particular family history, social environment, and physiological responses can all affect her risk of developing PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD

The symptoms of PTSD can vary from person to person. However, there are five symptoms that are common to most who struggle with PTSD:

  1. Involuntarily reliving the traumatic experience – This will take the form of flashbacks, nightmares, or distressing mental images. This re-experiencing may even include physical sensations like sweating, pain, or trembling.
  2. Actively avoiding circumstances, places, or people that remind her of the traumatic event – For example, a veteran with PTSD may avoid Independence Day celebrations because the sounds of the fireworks may remind her of mortar shells.
  3. Experiencing hyperarousal or increased anxiety – The individual may be incapable of relaxing and easily startled. Outbursts of anger, insomnia, and irritability are the results of this state of hyperarousal.
  4. Feeling physical symptoms of trauma – Headaches, dizziness, chest pain, and nausea are typical of PTSD sufferers.

It is also important to note that those with PTSD often struggle simultaneously with other mental health condition, most notably depression and anxiety.

PTSD and the Brain

For some sufferers of PTSD, it may be helpful to think of this disorder as the brain’s attempt to protect itself from further trauma. The brain recognizes similarities between a previous trauma and current circumstances, and is sending triggers to the body and psyche. The purpose of these triggers is a result of the innate “fight or flight” response. While the results of this condition can be debilitating, it is nonetheless based on a self-protective instinct.

Treatments for PTSD

Over the past few decades, a variety of treatments have been developed for PTSD. As with any other mental health condition, it is important to be aware that any of these approaches may or may not be effective for a specific individual, and that the best treatment may be a combination of any number of these options.

  • Cognitive behavior therapy – An individual is specifically taught new responses to stimuli repetitively such that a new instinct is developed.
  • Exposure therapy – Using mental imagery, writing, or physically revisiting the scene of the trauma under safe conditions, this approach allows an individual to face his fears and build resilience against it.
  • Cognitive restructuring – A therapist walks an individual through the traumatic experience in great detail, in order to help her make sense of the trauma.
  • Stress inoculation training – This therapy teaches an individual to reduce anxiety, and builds resistance against the onset of PTSD symptoms.
  • Virtual reality treatment – Carefully designed custom virtual environments expose an individual to the source of her trauma in a simulated environment, with the purpose of giving her the authority to overcome her fear and anxiety.

PTSD Can Lead to Addiction

One final consideration is the potential connection between PTSD and addiction. Often an individual with PTSD will begin to self-medicate with alcohol or other drugs, in order to cope with the confusion and anxiety of PTSD. Instead of resolving the PTSD, this self-medication only adds another layer of difficulty into the person’s life.

If you or a loved one in Des Moines is struggling with an addiction problem, it can feel overwhelming. This is especially true if you are also struggling with PTSD. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. We can help you. We can answer your questions. The admission counselors at our toll-free, 24 hour helpline can help you learn more about addiction. They can help you find your way.