Why Symptoms of PTSD Won’t Go Away Without Help
When it comes to mental health conditions, people are not usually comfortable talking about them. The truth is that many Americans suffer from conditions like anxiety and depression. But the majority of people are not formally diagnosed. And fewer may know or recognize the symptoms of PTSD.
There are real fears about being diagnosed with a mental health condition. People may be afraid that loved ones will find out when they would rather not talk about it. Or have anyone else know about their symptoms.
Like most things that feel uncomfortable, some people try to ignore the symptoms. They may find other ways of coping with PTSD that can harm their health. And others never seek out help for symptoms. Sometimes that is because they may not even realize the symptoms are related.
Some patients hope that the symptoms they experience from PTSD will go away. But clinical studies show that unresolved trauma can worsen with time. And increase the risks of self-harm and other symptoms, including addiction, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, and chronic diseases.
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Some studies estimate that for every hundred (100) people who experience emotional or physical trauma, about 25% will develop PTSD. That is 1 in every 4 trauma survivors. It is not understood why some people develop PTSD and others do not.
Post-traumatic stress disorder can develop when an individual has survived a moderate to severely traumatic event. And the memory of that event is imprinted on the brain, within the limbic system, and the prefrontal cortex. When a traumatic experience happens, the memory of the event is imprinted on the amygdala.
The amygdala part of the brain registers all events and learning. But when a traumatic event occurs that causes abnormally high levels of adrenaline to rush through the human body, that memory is held. Your brain’s way of remembering important things, like not touching something hot like a stove, after you receive a burn. Your brain wants to remember the experience to protect you from future injury.
Total Recall of Traumatic Events in the Amygdala
In extreme trauma cases, the amygdala records everything, including the visual replay of the event, scents (smell), sounds, and even tastes. When you touch a stove again, your brain sends you a flashback of when you got burned. You pull back your hand instinctively, and your brain and central nervous system have protected you from harm.
But the sensory recall from significant traumatic experiences is powerful. You may not just remember the event; you will remember how it felt. People with PTSD relive the experience with full sensory replay. And that is why the symptoms of PTSD are so disruptive to daily living.
Some common causes of post-traumatic stress disorder can include (but are not limited to) experiencing incidents like:
- Violent crimes
- Military combat
- Sexual assault
- Physical assault
- Natural disasters
- Health crises
- Bereavement (death of a loved one)
- Miscarriage or loss of a child
- Emotional abuse or bullying
The type of trauma most often discussed as a cause of post-traumatic stress disorder is military service. Decades ago, before the medical community understood PTSD, it was referred to as “Shell Shock.” Returning military men and women were traumatized by serving in wars and conflict areas.
The National Center for PTSD (Veterans Affairs) estimates that about 6 out of every 100 people will experience PTSD at some point. And approximately 12 million American adults currently have PTSD.
Is There a Link Between Heredity and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Just because your parent or sibling developed post-traumatic stress disorder, that doesn’t mean you will too. But a large study conducted by the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium (published on April 25, 2017) provided evidence that there could be a genetic link.
The risk of developing any mental health disorder is higher if you have a family history of diagnosis. That is true for other conditions, including depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and clinical anxiety.
The study evaluated 20,000 patients around the world. Researchers found that white American women were 29% more at risk of developing PTSD due to hereditary factors. Men, however, had a lower risk of developing PTSD even if they had one or more family members diagnosed with the condition.
Both risk and resilience to developing PTSD seem to be influenced to a small degree by hereditary factors. This helps explain why some people who experience significant trauma may not develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?
People who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can experience various symptoms. And can engage in behaviors that seem reclusive, as PTSD can make someone apprehensive about being around other people.
The avoidance of social engagement is difficult for individuals living with PTSD. Because it can impact all aspects of their life, from getting and keeping an excellent job to relationships with friends and family or partners. The withdrawal from social connections also means that some people with PTSD may lack social support to navigate the symptoms and get treatment.
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder fall into four main categories:
Most people have a few memories that they would rather forget. And some of them may be upsetting to think about if your mind recalls the event or experience. But generally, we can all move on from difficult memories that fade over time.
When someone has PTSD, they may be unable to suppress the memory of the trauma or more than one incident they experienced. This symptom is called “Intrusion” because the memory of the traumatic event can reoccur anytime and involuntarily.
Sometimes referred to as “flashbacks,” the upsetting memory of a traumatic event is extremely stressful for the individual. Because the memory is so vivid, it feels like they are reliving the experience repeatedly. And intrusive traumatic memories can strike at any time, and sometimes multiple times in a single day, causing fear, anxiety, and emotional upset.
Like many mental health conditions that are not well understood, patients with PTSD can withdraw socially. Often this is misunderstood as being simply “antisocial” or disinterested in participating in meaningful activities or relationships.
Avoidance behaviors are closely tied to Intrusions. If you do not know when a traumatic flashback will occur or where you will be, isolating yourself can become a coping mechanism. Because hiding the impact of flashbacks is difficult (if not impossible) for people with PTSD. And they do not want other people to see them visibly upset.
Another reason patients with PTSD develop avoidance behaviors is to reduce exposure to triggers. For example, let us say that the traumatic event involved a motor vehicle accident. Staying away from cars would make sense since it could trigger an intrusion or flashback. When the trauma is caused by something a patient may encounter daily, it becomes difficult to avoid those triggers, leading to withdrawal behaviors like agoraphobia (fear of going outside).
Enduring a moderate to severe traumatic event can affect your inner dialogue or narrative. Having symptoms that are difficult to control can make people with PTSD feel that something is wrong with them. Instead of exercising self-compassion for what they have endured, they can blame themselves.
Alterations in mood can take many forms and be caused by internal and external stimuli. Some people with PTSD have survivor’s guilt (familiar with military veterans). This is when they have witnessed a colleague’s or friend’s death and feel shame that they survived.
There can be a general mistrust when you have post-traumatic stress disorder. And that is because trauma can make some people hypervigilant about their surroundings. Depending on their trauma, patients can perceive threats from being in a harmless location or around new people. This can be expressed as anger, irritability, and emotional reactivity. And being startled easily by loud noises, standing around crowds of people, and other potential triggers.
Having mood fluctuations constantly can also be mentally exhausting and frustrating. Subsequently, some patients with PTSD can have insomnia, focus, and concentration issues, which can make work and their activities of daily living harder.
Do Symptoms of PTSD Go Away?
One of the difficult things to understand about post-traumatic stress disorder is how symptoms can lay dormant. Because with other medical conditions, it would be easy to assume that you have healed or adapted to the signs. For many patients, it can seem like the symptoms go away.
But clinical studies in the past ten years have demonstrated that the symptoms of PTSD do not go away. They lay dormant for most patients because of the patient’s ability to adapt to the signs as part of daily life. And sometimes, patients find harmful methods of dulling or numbing the symptoms through recreational drug or alcohol abuse.
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can appear to subside. But as long as the root trauma is buried deep within memory, those symptoms can reappear any time.
Can PTSD Hurt Your Health?
Mental and physical health are tied together. Physical conditions are more often treated because they may feel easier to address with medical help. Compared to a mental health condition. But it is essential to understand that untreated PTSD can negatively impact your health and well-being.
Some studies suggest that many people with PTSD live with elevated cortisol levels (the stress hormone). And that can be a precursor to developing other serious health problems because chronic stress and disease are strongly correlated.
Patients with untreated post-traumatic stress disorder have an increased risk of developing:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Clinical depression
- Eating disorders
- Suicidal thoughts or actions of self-harm
- Drug and alcohol abuse
One of the most common impacts of untreated or undiagnosed PTSD is drug or alcohol abuse. Because when a patient is not receiving therapy and medical help, they may seek to numb the symptoms they can’t control. But drugs and alcohol are not safe or effective long-term solutions.
Drug and alcohol abuse is an unhealthy (and harmful) method of coping with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. While inebriation or the psychoactive effects of recreational drugs can provide relief, it is temporary. And they are often followed by a sense of guilt and frustration when symptoms of PTSD return.
The Impact of PTSD on Employment and Personal Relationships
One of the significant losses that patients with PTSD may experience is the ability to form close, healthy, and supportive relationships. Even though (like all of us) they could benefit from that care and support. However, the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can make it very difficult for individuals to start or sustain relationships.
Distancing or avoidance is a common coping method for people living with PTSD. Which is not something family and friends may understand. Combined with emotional reactivity (mood disorders), which can also be present, marriages, friendships, and family relationships can suffer.
Individuals living with PTSD may have problems communicating their symptoms or what they are experiencing. That can also make loved ones feel excluded and unable to help.
Treatment Options for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
More than ever, the research and data collected from clinical studies have provided a new understanding of PTSD. And what it is like for patients who live with unresolved traumas. With this increased understanding have also come new treatment methods that can help patients with PTSD.
Many states have legalized PTSD as a qualifying health condition for medical marijuana. Suppose you are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. In that case, you may be eligible to use doctor-supervised medical cannabis as part of your treatment plan, in combination with talk therapy with a certified provider.
How Can Medical Cannabis Help Patients With PTSD?
Two recent studies have suggested that cannabinoids may be a very effective way to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
One study reported that cannabis might reduce the activity in the amygdala—the part of the brain that holds traumatic memory and triggers flashbacks or intrusions. Wayne University in Detroit was awarded another $12.5 million in funding in 2022 to continue researching cannabis treatments for veterans with PTSD.
Another study, “Blunted stress reactivity in chronic cannabis users,” suggested that the anti-anxiety properties of certain strains of cannabis may help. Many patients with PTSD are currently using recreational drugs or alcohol to cope with heightened anxiety. New treatment plans combining talk therapy and doctor-supervised medical cannabis may help reduce the severity of anxiety triggers experienced by people dealing with PTSD.
Access Affordable Mental Health Treatments with DocMJ Cares
If you have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms but have not been diagnosed with the condition, we can help. Our compassionate mental health professionals provide therapeutic counseling for patients in Ohio, Florida, and Texas.
Patients diagnosed with PTSD with DocMJ Cares may meet the qualifying health conditions to get a medical card. Our caring counselors can help guide you through the process of scheduling your medical cannabis health evaluation and applying for your card.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment and learn more about DocMJ Cares affordable mental health advisors and counseling services.