Acute Stress Disorder vs. PTSD

Symptoms and Treatment


Managing stress at any level can be a difficult prospect. Daily responsibilities, workplace obligations, financial planning, and other stressors can all be exhausting. However, those who have experienced trauma in their lives can find a new level of stress that is even more difficult to deal with. Traumatic events can linger in an individual’s mind and introduce more difficulties to one’s daily routine, bringing new challenges and hardships. This kind of traumatic stress is important to address early after an event.

Acute stress disorder is a short-term stress disorder that occurs following a traumatic event. ASD occurs during a period of one month following such an event and involves addressing the primary, initial reactions to a traumatic experience. Acute stress disorder, or acute PTSD, can have a great degree of overlap with post-traumatic stress disorder in its symptoms.

However, the two different stress disorders involve analyzing different time-frames of a person’s responses. Not all who experience a traumatic event will exhibit signs of ASD, but those who do suffer from it may begin exhibiting symptoms immediately following the event. Also, not all who do experience ASD will necessarily develop PTSD.

What Is Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)?

Acute stress disorder is a short-term stress disorder that occurs following a traumatic event. ASD occurs during a period of one month following such an event and involves addressing the primary, initial reactions to a traumatic experience. Acute stress disorder, or acute PTSD, can have a great degree of overlap with post-traumatic stress disorder in its symptoms. However, the two different stress disorders involve analyzing different time-frames of a person’s responses. Not all who experience a traumatic event will exhibit signs of ASD, but those who do suffer from it may begin exhibiting symptoms immediately following the event. Also, not all who do experience ASD will necessarily develop PTSD.


Symptoms of Acute Stress Disorder

Acute stress disorder can express itself in a number of different ways. Those who may be experiencing the effects of ASD may exhibit all, or only some of the following symptoms, and may experience them in a unique way from others who went through the same traumatic event. Some of the symptoms of acute stress disorder are:

  1. Anxiety

  2. Hypervigilance

  3. Constant feelings of fear or impending danger

  4. Invasive thoughts or lack of focus

  5. Avoidance 

  6. Isolation 

  7. Insomnia or difficulty staying asleep

  8. Dissociation or feeling emotionally distanced from people or one’s environment

Dissociation is a very common symptom of ASD, and involves feeling emotionally distant or detached from others in one’s life in an attempt to guard one’s self from further feelings of loss. Dissociation can also result from isolation or a feeling of not being understood following traumatic events. 


How Common Is ASD?

Not everyone will experience acute stress disorder following traumatic situations, and there are many other factors involved. However, it is still relatively common, with the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs suggesting that six to 33% of individuals may experience ASD following a traumatic event. How common ASD is following a particular traumatic event is dependent on the severity of the trauma, including the amount of loss involved. When it comes to the individual, personal factors can also have an influence on the development of ASD symptoms. Those who have experienced other traumas in the past, or with prior mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, may influence one’s development of acute stress disorder.

What Can Trigger ASD?

ASD can be triggered as a result of several different traumatic experiences. Serious accidents (especially when bodily harm is involved), the loss of a loved one, threats to one’s physical safety, abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual), or even serious health complications from illness can all cause symptoms of ASD. ASD can also happen vicariously at the workplace if an individual is being asked to work in a place where a traumatic event occurred, even if they were not directly involved. 

Those in high-stress and dangerous professions are at higher risk of exposure to these kinds of traumas and may develop symptoms of ASD. First responders on the scenes of natural disasters or dangerous, physical altercations that may be common for law enforcement officers, can all bring intense levels of stress, and it is especially important to remain vigilant of symptoms for individuals in these kinds of professions. 


What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is similar to acute stress disorder in many ways. However, in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder, symptoms of traumatic experiences may go on for longer than a month, and can even begin to surface for months — or even years — after the traumatic event occurred. These later symptoms of distress can also be more intense under PTSD and may continue to cause significant hardship for a prolonged period of time. PTSD can also develop following ASD, though it is possible to develop post-traumatic stress disorder at a later time, even without having experienced acute stress disorder.


Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Symptoms of acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder can have a great deal of overlap. However, there is a difference between PTSD and ASD, primarily in the severity of one’s symptoms. Some of the symptoms of PTSD can include:

  1. Difficulty concentrating

  2. Flashbacks

  3. Insomnia or persistent nightmares

  4. Emotional outbursts or anger 

  5. Hypervigilance or constant feeling of danger

  6. Depression

  7. Anxiety

  8. Nausea

  9. Unexplained aches or pains

  10. Trembling or sweating

  11. Self-harm or suicidal ideology

  12. Paranoia 

What Can Trigger PTSD?

PTSD can occur as a result of many different traumatic experiences. Natural disasters, violence, the loss of family members, life-threatening situations or illness, sexual assault, physical assault, or even threats on one’s life or physical wellbeing. Warzones or scenes of natural disasters can produce harrowing images that can all lead to the development of PTSD. Even images or experiencing the aftermath of a traumatic event can produce PTSD, as the images of loss or destruction can prove just as devastating to a person. 


ASD vs. PTSD

There are a number of differences between PTSD vs. acute stress disorder, despite their various overlaps. Primarily, the first difference is time. Post-traumatic stress disorder can only be diagnosed at least a month following the traumatic event, and symptoms of acute stress disorder can manifest immediately. While the symptoms can appear to be similar, acute stress disorder involves an individual’s immediate reactions to trauma, even before having too much time to process the events in one’s head. PTSD, however, can manifest and continue to affect an individual long after the traumatic situation has passed.


Another key difference is in how PTSD affects the brain and an individual’s worldview. With acute stress disorder, dissociation may be most prevalent as a person detaches from the world around them. However, depending on the severity of PTSD, those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder may instead view the world as a wholly negative, threatening, and violent place. This can fundamentally change the way an individual with post-traumatic stress disorder views the world, affecting their moods, emotional status, relationships, and overall lifestyle.


Importance of Treatment for ASD and PTSD

Receiving prompt and proper treatment for acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder is paramount for discovering ways to properly and safely process these traumatic events. Those exhibiting symptoms of either PTSD or ASD can have their life impeded by their experiences, and may find that they are making unhealthy changes to their lifestyle. The inability to properly process trauma can lead to further anxiety, and avoidance can cause financial issues as a person misses work, as well as isolation and deterioration of relationships. 


An inability to process these traumas, as well as the symptoms brought upon by ASD or PTSD, can lead an individual to find their own coping mechanisms, leading to the potential for dangerous use of addictive substances such as drugs or alcohol, or addictive behaviors such as gambling. These coping mechanisms can cause their own array of complications for an individual’s lifestyle. The development of addiction is a difficult thing to overcome and can impede one’s ability to effectively address the heart of their traumatic experience.


Treatment to address ASD or PTSD is crucial for learning to process one’s traumatic experiences. While difficult, early identification and treatment can halt the development of other detrimental symptoms and allow an individual to begin learning how to return to a state of normalcy following such disastrous events, improving one’s quality of life and psychological resilience. 

Post-traumatic stress disorder and acute stress disorder can all introduce a variety of hurdles into daily life. If you or a loved one are struggling with the effects of your traumatic experiences, Chateau Recovery can help you today.

We specialize in taking proven therapeutic techniques and working alongside each person to create unique and fulfilling, personalized recovery programs. Using a number of approaches, including cognitive processing therapy or neurofeedback, we can work with you to find your best path to healing and coping with the unique ways in which trauma has affected your life. Our secluded, curated recovery environment can help you escape from any external stressors and allow for a safe and genuine exploration of your new healing plans going forward.

For more information on the various ways we can help you, or to speak to a caring, trained staff member about your experience with ASD or PTSD, call us today at (435) 222-5225.
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