Acute Stress Disorder and Addiction: What you Should Know

Acute stress disorder is common in those who have been exposed to a traumatic event such as an accident, witnessing the death of an individual or having been the victim of a violent attack such as rape or domestic violence. Unfortunately, the feelings of hopelessness and fear that result from these traumatic experiences can spike in the weeks following a tragic event leaving the individual suffering from stress that often leads to a long-term condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Individuals who suffer from acute stress disorder often seeks drugs or alcohol in an effort to self-medicate or “forget” what they saw or experienced. Subsequent use of drugs or alcohol following a traumatic event can lead to an increased risk of addiction.

If you or someone you know is abusing drugs or alcohol, call our helpline toll-free at 800-598-5053 (Who Answers?) for help finding a rehab center.

Recognizing Acute Stress Disorder

acute stress disorder

Learn the symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder.

An individual who faces a traumatic experience that makes them feel or believe that they are in a life or death situation will automatically react to the stress in a fight-or-flight mode. The body responds with an increased heart rate, a spike in blood pressure, and a surge in the production of sweat. All of these symptoms are the result of the body’s immediate response to acute stress. For an individual who experiences a traumatic event, this same response can spike for days or weeks following the situation causing disruptions in the normal behavior and emotional response to less stressful situations.

Acute stress disorder can be caused by:

  • Living through a natural disaster such as a fire or tornado
  • Experiencing an accident or near death experience
  • Being kidnapped, raped or otherwise violently abused
  • Witnessing a death

The traumatic experience leads to a physical and emotional response that may require later treatment in order to prevent serious side effects associated with acute stress disorder. In order for an individual to be diagnosed with acute stress disorder, he or she must show the following symptoms following a traumatic event such as one of the events listed above:

  • Anxiety
  • Heightened fear
  • Reliving the experience or event
  • Avoiding things related to the event (such as not driving following an accident or not leaving home following an abduction)
  • Flashbacks of the event
  • Suffering from amnesia
  • Feeling “out-of-body” experience
  • Nightmares
  • Dissociation

Addiction and Acute Stress Disorder

Stress is a common denominator for those suffering from addiction, but often times it’s the stress itself that leads to the drug or alcohol use that is responsible for addiction. Everyone copes with stress in a different manner. Some can deal with significantly more stress than others. In fact, it is perfectly normal for people to deal with small amounts of stress in their daily lives without ever resorting to drugs or alcohol to cope. Acute stress disorder sufferers feel such heightened stress symptoms that coping can be quite challenging.

Unfortunately, using drugs or alcohol in an effort to “cope with” or “reduce” stress can actually cause more seriously problems. Studies show that the use of opiates, such as heroin or prescription painkillers in an effort to diminish stress can actually cause a vicious cycle of addiction and stress that is very difficult to treat. Individuals who abuse these drugs following a traumatic experience are more likely to deplete their coping ability and often subsequently suffer from heightened levels of stress that are more difficult to deal with.

If you or a loved one is addicted to drugs, call our helpline at 800-598-5053 (Who Answers?) to immediate speak with a treatment specialist that can provide a free referral for help.

An individual suffering from acute stress disorder and addiction may take part in binge drinking, excessive drug use or other compulsive behaviors. Once the drug use is over, withdrawal symptoms can lead to anxiety, depression and physical illness that leads the user right back to the drugs. The combined stress and addiction will require specialized treatment for optimal recovery and healing.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Acute Stress Disorder and Addiction

Individuals who have been diagnosed with acute stress disorder, anxiety or depression are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol in an effort to balance out their mood or feel better. Acute stress disorder in conjunction with an addiction to drugs or alcohol will require specialized treatment in a simultaneous manner. Dual diagnosis treatment in which both the stress disorder and the addiction are effectively treated will help the patient to become strong enough to cope and healthy enough to survive.

The following methods of treatment are commonly used in those who suffer from acute stress disorder and addiction:

  • CBT
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Medications to counteract anxiety, depression or other mental health condition
  • Exposure therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Support
  • Family therapy

At, we provide easy access to a wide range of treatment providers who can help you or your loved one overcome a stressful situation and heal. Our admissions counselors will help by identifying the appropriate level and type of treatment for your needs. Call our helpline toll-free at 800-598-5053 (Who Answers?) for immediate assistance in finding a program that will help you get well.


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