Why Do People Develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Mar 12, 2010 No Comments by

In the wake of severe, repeated or life-threatening trauma—such as abuse, rape, war or disasters—survivors can develop a condition known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder experience indelible psychic scars from their traumatic experiences, leading to hyperarousal, debilitating fear, and reexperience of the trauma long after the traumatic incident has passed. Because Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms can be harrowing, many survivors turn to alcohol or drug abuse in attempts to cope with daily lives fraught with panic and emotional pain.

Why Do People Develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

When we experience life-threatening situations, our body’s emergency state becomes naturally triggered in a classic “fight, flight or freeze” reaction. Each coping mechanism found in this crisis state has a purpose—”fight” responses are aimed at wounding the attacker in order buy time for survival, “flight” reactions occur out of the desire to run for safety, and “freeze” reactions buy time to assess the best means for survival. When we experience this threat of death, our bodies instigate a host of physiological responses aimed at further maximizing survival odds—through redirecting bloodflow to the muscles and vital organs, increasing heartrate, and instigating rapid breathing for enhanced oxygen intake and strength.

Our mental processes similarly become affected in the wake of threatening situations. Adrenaline and stress hormone levels spike, to allow for energy and physical strength necessary to combat an attack. Cognitive processes become gut-oriented and decisive, and the senses heighten in an attempt to interpret threat and escape routes. As traumatic memories are stored, they tend to be abnormally—and incompletely—processed, without fully storing into the context of long-term memory. As a result, when environmental cues mimic the circumstances of our attack, the brain reexperiences the original trauma, believing that the threat of death is occurring in the present.

In these attempts to protect us, the brain reminds us urgently of these perceived dangers, leading to the nightmares, flashbacks, and resurgence of the “fight, flight or freeze” state that occurred alongside the original trauma. In fact, as a result of traumatic incidents, studies have shown that the hippocampus (the portion of the brain dominant in short-term memory and emotions) is smaller in those with chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, perhaps due to neurological damage in this area of the brain.

Recovery for Chemical Dependency in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Sufferers

For those diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, chemical dependency can easily become a means of coping with the chronic stress of a body and brain on hyperalert. Unfortunately, drug and alcohol addiction only serves to further compound the stress level in those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While many outpatient drug and alcohol recovery programs adequately detox and educate participants, deeper levels of trauma simply cannot be treated in most recovery programs.

Patients with a dual diagnosis of chemical dependency and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder should seek out inpatient holistic drug and alcohol treatment centers that have the capacity to treat trauma victims through individualized therapy, hypnotherapy, detox, and alternative medicine—allowing all parts of their body and mind to heal from the trauma they have experienced so that symptoms of both chemical dependency and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can subside.

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