The Long-Term Effects of PTSD

While June may be Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness month, IU Health makes it a yearlong focus working with patients who struggle with PTSD daily. It’s important to bring awareness to PTSD as many people suffer from this very treatable condition and don’t seek help due to the stigma surrounding mental health conditions.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) results from a traumatic event that can be experienced directly or indirectly. While most people can resolve their symptoms by seeking treatment, there are lasting impacts from experiencing PTSD, especially when experienced in childhood.

It is not uncommon for untreated PTSD to result in the use of or dependence on drugs and alcohol to cope with intense feelings of anxiety and depression. Addiction has its own negative long-term health outcomes and can lead to occupational, legal, physical, and relationship problems.

According to a study by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, persons that experience four or more adverse childhood events on the ACE screening appear to have a higher risk of addiction, depression, smoking, heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and liver disease.1

How does PTSD affect relationships?

When someone is suffering from PTSD, their bodies are in a heighted state that puts them on guard. Stress is a normal response we all experience, and hormones that play an important role in maintaining this response are called cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline). Adrenaline is most often referred to as the ‘fight-or-flight’ hormone as it’s released when we experience a threat – such as seeing a bear in the wild. A person with PTSD may always be in this hyperaware state, scanning for and overreacting to perceived threats.

However, these hormones can also be released when the threat is no longer present. Over time, these hormones at high levels can cause negative impacts on the body. People with PTSD stay in that “fight or flight” mode – leading to an inability to relax and participate fully in life.

PTSD can make it difficult to trust others, and survivors may feel numb and distant from other people. Interest in social activities can be affected. Social withdrawal and isolation may occur. Persons with PTSD may push away loved ones. All of this can make it difficult to create and maintain close, meaningful relationships.

Friends and family may not understand what their loved one has experienced and how it is affecting them. They may be upset that their loved one hasn’t been able to resolve their trauma. They may be angry and upset due to irritability and behaviors the person with PTSD exhibits. Having PTSD can affect relationships with employers and make it difficult to maintain employment due to irritability, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, and depression. People with PTSD often do not disclose their condition to employers due to stigma associated with mental health disorders.

In addition, PTSD symptoms in parents appear to be linked to lower positive engagement with their children. It is important that parents seek help for their trauma, as higher levels of engagement lead to better outcomes for kids.

Living with PTSD

Living with PTSD can have a negative impact on activities everyday life. Elizabeth Sarchet, Supervisor of Behavioral Health Services at IU Health shares “In my experience with patients I work with, often activities that most of us wouldn’t think twice about doing such as driving a car, socializing, going to the grocery store, attending an event with large groups of people, etc. can incite fear and lead to avoidance due to irrational thoughts associated with previous trauma.”

Recovery from PTSD can be challenging and includes finding a new way of reacting to things that are reminders of the traumatic event, examining and changing irrational beliefs about self, others, and the world, and discovering a way to become fully engaged in life and with the people around you.

Each person has their own experience and timeline for recovery – but recovery does happen.

Resources

The National Center for PTSD has information and videos to help you understand the treatment options available and help you choose the treatment that’s right for you or a loved one.

If you or a loved one is in a crisis, there are resources available that can help:

  • Veterans Crisis Line 800.273.8255 (press 1)
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline 800.656.HOPE (4673)
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline 800.950.NAMI (6264)

References:

  • Vincent Felliti, MD, FACP et al. “Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, no. 4, 1 May 1998.