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Causes and Symptoms of PTSD

Causes and Symptoms of PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (in short, PTSD), is a mental condition that people can develop after experiencing or witnessing traumatic events. PTSD has been affecting people’s psyche since the dawn of time, however, it wasn’t until 1980 that the American Psychiatric Association began to recognize it as a mental health diagnosis. Prevalence in the medical community increased with the influx of war veterans and survivors experiencing “shell shock” and battle fatigue. While it is common among war veterans, anybody can develop PTSD at any point in their life if they experience trauma. 

Causes of PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder can emerge after witnessing or personally experiencing a traumatic event. These experiences can range from childhood abuse to witnessing battlefield combat, sexual assault, automobile accidents, and even natural disasters. It is estimated that 7.8 million Americans will develop some form of PTSD at some point in their lives, with women being more prone to it than men. Some women even develop postpartum PTSD from traumatic birthing experiences. 

Symptoms of PTSD can begin to present themselves within one month of a triggering event, but for others, it may take years for symptoms to surface. Doctors wait at least a month post-trauma to evaluate symptoms and determine if someone is experiencing PTSD.

Common Symptoms of PTSD

Everyone processes trauma differently and therefore, symptoms of PTSD will vary case by case. There are four main groups to classify the different PTSD symptoms. These categories include re-experiencing, avoidance, negative thoughts and mood, and changes in reactions. Symptoms may also vary over time.


Re-experiencing is a symptom that pushes a traumatic event or memory to the forefront of someone’s mind. As if they are stuck in and living that same moment over and over again. This can also present itself as experiencing the same intense emotions of the event over and over. Also known as intrusive memories or intrusive thoughts, re-experiencing may present itself as:

  • Vivid flashbacks
  • Recurrent memories
  • Nightmares
  • Hallucinations


People who are experiencing avoidance may seem a bit reserved or hesitant to share how they feel or what they’re going through. Avoidance is an attempt to protect oneself from any triggering thoughts, memories, or sensations that may occur. Once someone has experienced a traumatic event, they may try to do everything in their power to never feel anything related to that event again. This behavior can show itself as: 

  • Becoming a homebody
  • Becoming more reserved
  • Being afraid to go out
  • Disinterest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Disinterest in trying new things

Negative changes in thinking and mood

Trauma can shape people’s overall demeanor and moods. We all feel sad from time to time. But, after a traumatic event, people can begin to decline in overall happiness and attitude. These can show as: 

  • Depression
  • Pessimistic outlook
  • “Brain fog” or Memory problems
  • Becoming distant from loved ones
  • Feeling exhausted when trying to be positive
  • Not being able to feel anything, or feeling numb

Changes in emotional and physical reactions

When the brain experiences trauma, it physically damages itself to try and erase the memory and prevent future trauma. This does more harm than good and can change the way people emotionally and physically react to things. These changes present themselves as:

  • Being easily startled or frightened
  • Always being on guard for danger
  • Being overly aggressive or defensive 
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating

Treatment for PTSD

There are a few ways to go about treatment for remedying PTSD. Seeing a licensed therapist or psychologist is usually the first step when seeking treatment. Here at Harm Reduction Center, we have a staff of licensed psychiatrists and therapists who are more than capable of helping and treating people. If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD, Harm Reduction Center is here to empower and support each individual recovery journey. We offer highly individualized care to our clients, offering Integrated Medication-Assisted Treatment and all outpatient levels of care. Contact us today for more information.