Top signs of PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an emotional illness that can develop after experiencing a traumatic event that was either life-threatening, threatened your safety, or otherwise made you feel helpless. Traumatic events such as war, rape, sexual or physical abuse, a car or plane crash, natural disasters, kidnapping and medical procedures (especially in children) are common causes of PTSD. PTSD can manifest itself in many ways, but here are the top signs of PTSD and the three main groups of symptoms that are necessary in order to diagnose it.


I. Repeatedly re-experiencing the traumatic event.
* Flashbacks (acting or feeling like the event is happening again for minutes or even days at a time)
* Recurring nightmares about the trauma or of other frightening things
* Intrusive and upsetting memories of the event
* Feelings of intense emotional distress when reminded of the trauma
* Feeling intense physical reactions when reminded of the event. This could include sweating, rapid breathing and heartbeat, nausea, muscle tension, etc.
* Dissociative reliving of the trauma

II. Avoidance and emotional numbing.
* Avoiding (sometimes to the point of having a phobia of) activities, places, people, thoughts or feelings that remind you of the trauma
* Feeling emotionally dead
* Feeling detached from others and actively seeking distance
* Amnesia of the traumatic event
* Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed and of life in general
* Hopelessness about the future

III. Chronic symptoms of anxiety and increased emotional arousal.
* Irritability or angry outbursts
* Difficulty concentrating
* Difficulty falling or staying asleep
* Difficulty remembering things
* Staying hypervigilant (always on the alert)
* Feeling jumpy and easily startled

Other common signs of PTSD are:

* Substance abuse or other self-destructive behavior
* Depression
* Suicidal thoughts and feelings
* Overwhelming guilt, shame or self-blame
* Feeling alienated and alone
* Headaches, stomach problems, chest pain


Prolonged exposure to traumatic events can result in C-PTSD, or complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Survivors of prolonged physical and sexual abuse, hostage situations, religious cults and prisoners of war are all examples of people susceptible to C-PTSD.

The symptoms of C-PTSD are similar to PTSD, but also include:
* Persistent feelings of depression
* Problems controlling feelings
* Preoccupation with suicidal thoughts
* Self-injury or self-mutilation
* Explosive or inhibited anger
* Compulsive or inhibited sexuality
* Amnesia or hyperamnesia regarding the traumatic events
* Episodes of dissociative behavior
* Preoccupation with the perpetrator
* Seeing the perpetrator as all-powerful


Following the traumatic event, children may exhibit signs of confusion or agitation and show intense fear, helplessness, anger, sadness, horror or denial. Children who experience repeated trauma will dissociate, or numb their emotions to deaden the pain.

Children will exhibit many of the same symptoms of PTSD as adults do, but with the following exceptions:
* Worrying about dying at an early age/anxiety about death
* Acting younger than their age (e.g.; clingy or whiny behavior, thumbsucking, etc.)
* Repeating behavior that reminds them of the trauma. For example, repeatedly playing in a way that re-enacts the trauma.
* Regressive symptoms (e.g.; bed-wetting or losing speech or motor skills)
* Freezing (sudden immobility)
* Separation anxiety


People who experience the traumatic event aren’t the only ones who can develop PTSD; witnesses to the event and those who arrive after the event, such as paramedics and police officers, can also develop the disorder.

If you or someone you love is exhibiting symptoms of PTSD, it’s important to contact a professional right away. Untreated PTSD can have long-lasting and far-reaching consequences to a person’s physical and emotional well-being, as well as to their ability to function normally within relationships and society. The sooner it is addressed, the easier it is to overcome. Seek a medical professional who is experienced and specializes in PTSD; but, above all, choose one who will make you feel safe, respected and understood to minimize any added anxiety.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.