Individuals who are diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder or acute stress disorder often have other physical and emotional conditions. Some of these conditions are coping strategies to help them handle the trauma, while others develop because of the body's reaction to severe stress. The related conditions include emotional conditions such as depression or major depressive disorder, which develops in more that 50 percent of people diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder. Panic disorders with agoraphobia, social and specific phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder often present after a trauma.
Research shows that a high percentage of women with PTSD also abuse drugs and alcohol. Alcohol is most commonly abused followed by cocaine and marijuana dependence. Studies indicate that individuals who use drugs and alcohol as a coping mecanism for PTSD symptoms have difficulty learning other coping skills and take longer to work through the trauma.
Somatization disorders that are characterized by complaints of pain, gastrointestinal distress, sexual problems, and other symptoms that significantly disrupt, but are not due to a medical condition, are commonly linked to stress disorders. Survivors of trauma have a high risk of suicide or attempts for a number of reasons that include: developing depression, feeling helplessness and hopelessness, feeling guilty for surviving, andnot being able to control or stop the trauma. As an example, people who were raped may feel damaged and guilty, believing they are at fault for the assault, or that somehow they could have stopped it.
Severe stress compromises the immune system and survivors of trauma are open to developing diseases, such as heart and lung diseases, cancer, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal illness, and skin conditions. Substance-related disorders commonly occur as a way of “self-medicating” to cope with the trauma.
After a trauma has occurred it is difficult to determine if other mental or physical conditions developed before or after the traumatic event. The initial interviews for diagnosing stress disorders must include detailed mental and physical health histories. And treatment planning must take into account the need to remedy the coexisting disorders as well as the presenting stress disorder.