Acute Stress Disorder Treatment Options

A traumatic event can affect different people in different ways. People who survive mass shootings, robberies and assaults may or may not internalize feelings that these types of events trigger. Acute stress disorder or ASD develops in cases where a person does internalize feelings arising from a traumatic event.

Fortunately, ASD is an easily treatable condition. It’s very important for people suffering from acute stress disorder to get treatment before symptoms become more serious. Both psychotherapy and medication options have proven effective treatment approaches for acute stress disorder.

Reasons to Get Treatment

Acute stress disorder treatment

It’s important that you seek out for professional help when dealing with acute stress disorder.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 6 to 33 percent of survivors of traumatic events will start to exhibit symptoms of acute stress disorder. Symptoms of ASD appear within one month after an event and last anywhere from two days to four weeks.

The most common symptoms associated with acute stress disorder include –

  • Depersonalization – an altered perception of self that causes a person to feel detached from his or her mind or body
  • De-realization – an altered perception of one’s immediate environment to the point where surroundings seem surreal
  • Dissociative amnesia – blocking out memories of the traumatic event
  • An overall numbing effect that dulls a person’s emotional responses
  • Feeling detached from one’s immediate surroundings
  • A “muted” awareness of one’s immediate surroundings

When left untreated, symptoms lasting longer than four weeks start to take on the characteristics of another condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder. For diagnosis purposes, acute stress disorder became a new diagnostic category as of 1994 as a way to differentiate the long-term symptoms found in post-traumatic stress disorder from short-term responses to traumas.

Psychotherapy Treatment Options

Psychotherapy treatment options for acute stress disorder offer different approaches to helping a person resolve internal, emotional conflicts caused by a traumatic event. Treatment approaches commonly used to treat acute stress disorder include –

  • Therapeutic writing
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Psychological debriefing

Therapeutic writing provides an outlet of expression for internalized thoughts and emotions surrounding a traumatic event. Writing entries are then discussed in therapy where emotional issues regarding the event can be resolved.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps a person gain a fresh perspective of his or her experience of the traumatic event. This approach also works to modify destructive behaviors within anxiety-producing situations.

Psychological debriefing involves the therapist recounting the traumatic event back to the survivor. By doing so, a person can actually hear about what he or she experienced, which helps the person to talk about the experience.

Medication Treatment

Acute stress disorder is one of many anxiety-based disorders. As anxiety and stress fuel ASD symptoms, medication treatments work to reduce a person’s anxiety levels.

Medications used to treat acute stress disorder include:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Clonidine
  • Propranolol
  • Fluoxetive
  • Trazodone

Doctors may also use medications as a way to treat individual symptoms of the disorder, such as trazodone for insomnia, propranolol for avoidance behaviors and clonidine for hyperarousal symptoms.

Antidepressants can also be prescribed in cases where acute stress disorder has evolved into post-traumatic stress disorder.


U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

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