Acute Stress Disorder

Acute stress disorder is a mental disorder that occurs within one month following a traumatic event. The event that causes the acute stress is usually disturbing and unexpected resulting in fear, pain or undeniable stress. Such events tend to consist of a serious injury or death.

Acute stress disorder symptoms typically overlap with those of post-traumatic stress disorder and, in actuality, it is a variant of post-traumatic stress disorder. The difference between the two is that post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms must persist for at least one month, while acute stress disorder symptoms typically persist for approximately 2 to 4 days and they tend to begin immediately following the traumatic event.

If you suffer from PTSD or acute stress disorder as a result of an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call 888-647-0051 (Who Answers?) to speak with a live treatment specialist about your problem.

Acute stress disorder also involves feelings of disorientation (not knowing whether you are inside or outside your body and not knowing where you are). This disorder is your body and mind’s reaction to a traumatic event that made you feel helpless. Your feelings may be real or they may be irrational, depending on the circumstances.

Symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder

Acute stress disorder symptoms may include: a tendency to show a great variation in mood, thought patterns and/or behaviors, fogginess and/or a “dazed” state.

Initial “Dazed” State

In this “dazed” state you may experience a shortened attention span, poor memory, decreased consciousness, disorientation and/or the inability to comprehend stimuli. You may not know if you are experiencing actual stimuli or not. You may experience a delayed reaction time. You may also gradually withdraw from your surroundings. Your dissociation may make you feels as if you are in a “dream-like” state. It is not uncommon for you to be unable to remember the specific details surrounding the traumatic event.

Withdrawal and/or Extreme Anxiety

acute stress disorder

Extreme anxiety and flashbacks can occur with acute stress disorder.

You may experience withdrawal and/or extreme anxiety following the “dazed” state. During this stage, you may isolate yourself, display a dissociative stupor, experience extreme anxiety, hyper-arousal and/or agitation. Severe depression may follow and you may become confused and/or detached. If you have acute stress disorder you may have:

  • impaired judgment
  • panic attacks
  • severe anxiety
  • an accelerated heartbeat
  • excessive perspiration
  • flushing


During the onset stage, symptoms may occur with within minutes of a stressful event and may last for hours or days. Symptoms must persist for at least 48 hours for it to be classified as acute stress disorder episode. In addition, complete or partial amnesia can occur during the episode.


When you have acute stress disorder, it is common to have flashbacks similar to those experienced by someone who has abused hallucinogenic drugs.  You may keep re-living the traumatic event that caused the stress. Flashbacks can be in the form of nightmares and/or thoughts and you may start avoiding any place or stimulus that reminds you of the traumatic event.


The disorder can present anywhere from 48 hours to one month following the traumatic event.

The Prevalence of Acute Stress Disorder

Acute stress disorder has a variable rate of occurrences. Variations from 6% to 33% have been seen in trauma victims. Different types of trauma elicit different types of responses. For example survivors of a natural disaster may have a lower occurrence rate of acute stress disorder. In addition, it appears that survivors of assaults, robberies or mass shootings have a high occurrence rate of acute stress disorder, possibly due to the nature of the traumatic event.

Acute stress disorder, PTSD and anxiety, in general, can be caused by a variety of situations in life. If drugs or alcohol are to blame, or if you resort to the use of drugs or alcohol as a means of coping with stress, call our helpline toll-free at 888-647-0051 (Who Answers?) to speak with a treatment specialist.

The Risk Factors for Acute Stress Disorder Are:

  • Having experienced other traumatic events
  • Having experienced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the past
  • Having mental health problems diagnosed previously
  • Showing disorientation and symptoms of amnesia when confronted with trauma

The Relation between Acute Stress Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Research indicates that if you suffer from acute stress disorder, you have a higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder then someone who does not have a stress disorder. More than 80% of people who have been diagnosed with this disorder will more than likely develop PTSD within 6 months. It is important to note that this is the probability, but there is an exception to the rule.

You do not have to have acute stress disorder to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, but there appears to be a correlation between the two disorders. If you were previously diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, you are more likely to develop acute stress disorder in the future if faced with traumatic events such as the loss of a loved one.

Treatment of Acute Stress Disorder

In most situations, the disorder resolves on its own, but in some cases medication and short-term therapy is needed to aid the in the recovery process. Research shows that patients who have been treated for acute stress disorder are less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder in the future.

If you’re self-medicating or using drugs or alcohol to help you cope with stress, call 888-647-0051 (Who Answers?) to talk with a treatment specialist that can help you get well.

 The Most Effective Treatment Methods Include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy has shown positive results in treating acute stress disorder. If you are treated with cognitive behavioral therapy you are less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder in the future. Only a qualified mental health professional can determine whether this type of treatment will be beneficial for you. Cognitive behavioral therapy has proven effective for treating accident survivors, rape victims, and victims of domestic violence.
  • Psychological Debriefing: Psychological debriefing is another effective way to treat acute stress disorder, however this method not recommended in situations in which you have experienced a serious traumatic event.
  • Psychopharmacology: Research suggests psychopharmacology may beneficial in treating acute stress disorder.

Drugs That Have Shown Some Success in Treating Acute Stress Disorder:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Tricyclic anti-depressants
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAO inhibitors)
  • Other antidepressants
  • Second-generation antipsychotic medications
  • Anticonvulsants


United States: Department of Veterans Affairs. (2012). Acute stress disorder. Retrieved from

United States Public Health Service: Office of the Surgeon General. (1999). Mental health: A report of the surgeon general. Retrieved from

National Guidelines Clearinghouse. (2012). Acute stress disorder and post traumatic disorder.  Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Retrieved feom


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