10 Common Symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder

Acute stress disorder or ASD is a close cousin to post-traumatic stress disorder. In effect, one precedes the other. While similar symptoms exist for both conditions, developing dissociative symptoms most distinguishes ASD from post-traumatic stress disorder. When left untreated, acute stress disorder can develop into post-traumatic stress disorder.

If you or someone you care about suffers from acute stress disorder symptoms and is abusing drugs or alcohol in order to “cope” with the stress, call our helpline toll-free at to speak with a treatment specialist.

Acute stress disorder was first listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1994, according to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs. In order for a diagnosis of ASD to be made, a person must exhibit symptoms of the disorder within one month after being exposed to a traumatic event. Traumatic events, such as witnessing a serious accident or death can vary in severity. As not everyone will develop acute stress disorder after a traumatic event, how a person reacts to a trauma determines whether he or she will start to show symptoms.

The 10 most common symptoms of acute stress disorder are:

Acute Stress Disorder Symptoms

Acute stress disorder symptoms can commonly occur after a traumatic event.

1. Exposure to a Traumatic Event – where a person experiences, witnesses or is confronted with an event that threatened serious injury or death to him or herself or others. The event must evoke intense feelings of helplessness, horror or fear.

2. Sense of Detachment – experienced during or after the traumatic event. Detachment is experienced subjectively as a feeling of numbness or an overall lack of emotional responsiveness.

3. Loss of Awareness – as one of the key symptoms of acute stress disorder, a person enters a “dazed” state of awareness during and after the traumatic event. Immediate surroundings seem less real and more so dream-like.

4. Depersonalization – a sense of being outside one’s body and/or mind. The emotional impact of the traumatic event jars a person’s emotional center and mental awareness. In effect, this acute stress disorder symptom lessens a person’s feeling of significance and/or permanence.

5. Re-experiencing the Event – a person repeatedly re-experiences the event in one of the following ways.

  • Flashback episodes
  • Illusions
  • Recurrent images
  • Dreams
  • Thoughts
  • Reliving the experience in real-time
  • Experiencing distress when exposed to a reminder of the event

6. Avoidance Behaviors – avoiding anything that brings on recollections of the traumatic event, such as people, places and activities. This symptom of acute stress disorder can potentially disrupt a person’s home or work life.

7. Hyper-Arousal – feelings of anxiety or an abnormally alert state of being. This symptom can cause a person to lose sleep, have problems concentrating or have an exaggerated startle response.

8. Problems at Home or Work – this is another key symptom of acute stress disorder. Associated symptoms must be so pronounced as to impair a person’s ability to function normally or ask for help when in need of assistance.

9. Timing of Symptoms – as a short-term disorder, symptoms of ASD typically last a minimum of two days and run no longer than four weeks maximum.

10. Dissociative Amnesia – experiencing memory gaps related to the traumatic event. This symptom can result from a breakdown in consciousness, memory or awareness. Reminders of the trauma can trigger dissociative amnesia episodes throughout the course of a person’s day.

Don’t let acute stress disorders symptoms ruin your life or lead you to addiction. If you’re abusing drugs or alcohol, call our helpline at for immediate assistance.


United States Department of Veterans Affairs


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