Treatment for Trauma-Related Illnesses

Trauma is the name for certain emotional reactions you experience following highly distressing situations. Within limits, these reactions are healthy and help you rebuild your sense of equilibrium. However, you can exceed your ability to cope with trauma. If this happens, your mental health may suffer.

Illnesses triggered by trauma are known as trauma- and stressor-related disorders. When present, they can lead to major declines in your ability to feel safe, secure and well. In this way, they harm your day-to-day function in numerous ways.

You can recover from any trauma-related condition. The key is receiving treatment targeted to your specific situation. With help from this treatment, restoration of your sense of well-being is a realistic goal.

What Is Trauma

Trauma can occur if you are directly affected by events that do things such as:

  • Make you fear for your life or safety, even at a distance
  • Pose a more immediate threat to your life or safety
  • Lead to actual serious injury or harm
  • Expose you to the harm, injury or death of other people
  • Undermine or damage your beliefs or worldview

In the aftermath of a highly distressing event, it is common to feel a sense of shock and disorientation. Many people also try to actively deny what happened. By and large, these are healthy reactions. They help protect your psyche and give you time to adjust and adapt. 

You may also feel longer-term trauma effects that are much more unpredictable. This happens when your capacity for coping is not enough to help you adjust and adapt. When this occurs, you may be in danger of developing significant mental health issues.

Types of Trauma

There are five main types of trauma- and stressor-related disorders. All five of these disorders can affect children. However, only three can occur in adults.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD

 PTSD is undoubtedly the most well-known trauma disorder. It occurs when you have life-disrupting trauma reactions that last for more than a month. There are four categories of PTSD symptoms. To be diagnosed, you must have symptoms that fall into each of these categories.

Most people probably think of PTSD as anxiety disorder. This makes sense since experts classified it as one up until 2013. However, not everyone with PTSD has symptoms of anxiety. For this reason, the illness is now grouped with other trauma-related disorders. 

Acute Stress Disorder,  or ASD

ASD is a shorter-term diagnosis for life-disrupting trauma. You only have this condition if your symptoms:

  • Affect you at least three days after you were exposed to trauma
  • Resolve before a full month passes

If your symptoms last for longer than a month, you have PTSD, not ASD. To be diagnosed with acute stress disorder, you must also have at least nine out of 14 possible symptoms. ASD symptoms are not split into separate categories like PTSD symptoms.

Adjustment Disorder

You can be diagnosed with adjustment disorder if you have certain harmful reactions to trauma. These reactions indicate that you are having difficulty adjusting to what happened to you. In some ways, adjustment disorder resembles serious anxiety. In other ways, it can resemble depression. However, you do not have this illness unless your symptoms are linked to a relatively recent trauma. 

Reactive Attachment Disorder, or RAD

Reactive attachment disorder is exclusively a childhood diagnosis. It is the product of abuse or severe neglect. The main features of RAD are emotional withdrawal and inhibition. 

Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder, or DSED

Like reactive attachment disorder, DSED is a childhood-only diagnosis. Affected children have histories that include neglect, abuse or some other severe trauma. The underlying issue in DSED is difficulty forming deep connections to other people. This difficulty takes the form of outgoing behavior that is often inappropriate or dangerous. 

Signs and Symptoms of Trauma

Signs and Symptoms of Trauma

Each trauma- and stressor-related disorder produces its own defining symptoms. Not everyone with the same illness experiences the exact same problems. Still, everyone has problems that fall within a certain range.

PTSD Symptoms

The four main  issues found in adults with PTSD are:

  • Re-experiencing symptoms that cause you to relive your trauma
  • Avoidant symptoms that lead you to stay away from trauma reminders
  • Arousal and reactivity symptoms that activate your “fight-or-flight” response
  • Cognition and mood symptoms that alter your normal ability to think or feel emotions

Children tend to have different or additional symptoms, especially when they are younger. Depending on age, these symptoms may include such things as:

  • Age-inappropriate bed wetting
  • Acting out traumatic situations while playing
  • Engaging in disrespectful or disruptive behavior

ASD Symptoms

There are 14 potential symptoms of acute stress disorder. Examples of these symptoms include:

  • Repeated, upsetting traumatic memories that you cannot control
  • Flashbacks or other things that make you feel you are reliving your trauma
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Concentration problems
  • Doing things to avoid trauma-related thoughts or memories
  • Trying to avoid anything outside of yourself that reminds you of a traumatic situation
  • Experiencing upsetting physical or mental reactions when you are reminded of a trauma
  • Having an exaggerated sensitivity to potential danger 
  • An inability to feel pleasure or other positive or joyful emotions
  • Losing your ability to remember key parts of a traumatic event

Adjustment Disorder Symptoms

Adjustment disorder produces symptoms that include:

  • Hopelessness or sadness
  • Withdrawal from social contact
  • Impulsive or defiant actions
  • Heartbeat irregularities
  • Feelings of tension or nervousness
  • Bouts of crying
  • Muscle twitches or tremors

Reactive Attachment Disorder

Potential symptoms of RAD include:

  • Exaggerated emotional responses to everyday conversation
  • Not responding to comfort or looking for it
  • An inability or unwillingness to smile
  • A lack of interest in games that involve others
  • Sadness or fear that has no obvious source
  • An unwillingness or inability to ask for help or support

Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder

Symptoms of DSED may include:

  • Lack of hesitancy to approach and talk to adult strangers
  • A willingness to go places with adult strangers
  • Physical or verbal behavior that is too familiar by typical standards
  • A tendency to leave familiar adults behind, even in new surroundings

Trauma Causes and Risk Factors

All forms of traumatic situation are related in some way to exposure to highly distressing events. The long list of such events includes:

  • Sexual or physical assault or abuse
  • Emotional or verbal abuse
  • Childhood neglect
  • The death of a loved one
  • Exposure to combat, a war zone or terrorism
  • Living through a disaster, whether manmade or natural
  • Being displaced from you home
  • Major accidents
  • Serious or life-threatening illnesses
  • Domestic violence
  • Seeing someone else experience domestic violence
  • Family separation
  • Divorce 

Generally speaking, children are more susceptible to trauma than adults. However, adults also have varying reactions. When past their teen years, most people bounce back from traumatic situation fairly well. Still, a significant minority do not. These are the people most likely to develop an adult trauma disorder.

No one can predict who will react poorly to trauma. However, your risks may be higher for reasons that include:

  • Not feeling supported after a traumatic event
  • Being unable to respond actively while trauma is occurring
  • Experiencing physical harm during traumatic situation
  • Witnessing severe harm to others during a traumatic event
  • Feeling extremely close to death during such an event
  • Having a friend or loved one die as a result of trauma
  • Having symptoms of mental illness or substance problems when a trauma occurs

Trauma Diagnosis

Trauma Diagnosis

Each trauma- and stressor-related disorder has its own criteria for diagnosis. For example, people with PTSD must have at least six total symptoms. That includes problems from each of the four symptom categories. 

Doctors pay close attention to time when diagnosing acute stress disorder. Any symptoms that occur earlier than three days after trauma exposure do not meet the ASD criteria. The same is true for symptoms that appear past the one-month mark. 

You can only be diagnosed with adjustment disorder if your symptoms occur fairly close to the time of trauma. The usual timeframe is three months or less. In addition, your symptoms must go beyond the normal grieving process. 

Reactive attachment disorder is only diagnosed in children exposed to severe neglect or deprivation. In addition, problems must begin before a child reaches age six. Children with DSED must also have a history of severe neglect or deprivation. 

Will a “do I suffer from trauma” quiz help? Yes and no. This kind of quiz can help you determine if your trauma reactions are unhealthy. However, it will not help identify the specific nature of your problems. Professional help is needed for the diagnosis of all trauma disorders.

Addiction and Trauma

Exposure to traumatic situation can increase your chances of using and abusing drugs or alcohol. This is true even if you do not develop a trauma disorder. Adults with trauma disorders have increased odds of developing diagnosable substance problems. The combination of these problems can have serious consequences for your health. 

Trauma Treatment and Therapy Options

Treatments for Acute Stress Disorder

You may need relatively little formal treatment to recover from ASD. Sedatives are sometimes used to control symptoms such as insomnia or anxiety. However, self-care is crucial. That means taking steps to support sound physical health. It also means taking steps to ensure your personal safety. Being methodical in your daily routine is also beneficial. Only attempt self-care under the direction of a mental health professional. 

Treatments for PTSD

Antidepressant medications are common in PTSD treatment. In addition, you may need a sedative or another medication. Therapy is also important. One helpful option, exposure therapy, helps you confront the fear that often accompanies PTSD. There are also options to help you cope with your trauma-related memories.

Treatments for Adjustment Disorder

Therapy is the main treatment for adjustment disorder. You may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps you change the way you respond to past traumatic situation. Other options include family therapy and long-term therapy. Antidepressants and antianxiety medications are also sometimes used.

Treatments for Reactive Attachment Disorder and DSED

To recover from reactive attachment disorder or DSED, children need therapy that helps them cope with trauma. Sessions of that therapy must include parents and other family members. Effective treatment seeks to clarify the relationships between children and responsible adults. It also seeks to make those relationships stronger. 

Get More Information on Trauma and Trauma Recovery

No matter how a trauma disorder affects you, you can recover and regain your sense of balance and composure. To do this safely and effectively, you must have help from trained professionals. There are professionals skilled in the treatment of each kind of trauma-related illness. This kind of specialized, personal care is essential.

To learn more about recovering from trauma disorders, talk to the experts at Emerald Isle. We specialize in the treatment of all forms of adult trauma. Our comprehensive and customized plans provide you with support every step of the way. Contact us today for more information.