Woman explains trauma symptoms to her patient

Trauma Signs and Symptoms

Trauma has profound effects on a person’s well-being. If it isn’t treated, the effects of trauma can last a lifetime and affect every area of a person’s life.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines trauma as a response to events you perceive as “physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening.” Moreover, trauma causes “lasting adverse effects” that make it difficult to function, or impact your “mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”

Sixty-one percent of men and 51% of women report experiencing a traumatic event at some point in their lives. Sometimes trauma produces signs and symptoms that only last a few days or weeks. Other times it may last longer and turn into something called post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Events that may result in emotional and psychological trauma include:

  • War
  • Sexual assault
  • Natural disasters
  • Serious car accidents
  • Domestic violence
  • Health crises

Whether trauma is severe or mild or results in PTSD or not, it’s important to have support after experiencing it. Treatment for trauma will help you process what happened to you in a safe environment. It will then teach you healthy ways of coping with your trauma symptoms.

Symptoms of Trauma

Symptoms and signs of trauma are broken into four categories: intrusion symptoms, avoidance symptoms, negative changes in mood, and changes in arousal and reactivity. Here are examples of trauma symptoms in each of the categories.

Intrusion Symptoms

Intrusion symptoms refer to how you might remember or re-experience the traumatic event. These symptoms cause the traumatic memory to “intrude” upon you during regular life. That’s why they are called intrusion symptoms. Some possible ways include:

Recurrent, involuntary and intrusive memories that are particularly distressing
Nightmares or upsetting dreams that relate to the traumatic event
Dissociative reactions, such as flashbacks. This involves disconnecting from what’s around you and feeling like the event is happening all over again.
Intense or prolonged distress when exposed to reminders of the trauma, such as a specific date
Distinct physical reactions (rapid heart rate, sweaty palms, etc.) when exposed to reminders of the trauma

Avoidance Symptoms

Avoidance symptoms include any effort you make to avoid re-experiencing or remembering the traumatic event such as:

  • Avoiding activities, places or physical reminders
  • Avoiding people, conversations or other interpersonal situations

Negative Changes in Mood

A negative shift in thoughts and mood that began—or worsened—after the traumatic event include the following:

  • Low emotional state, such as fear, guilt, shame or sadness
  • Decreased interest in activities that once brought joy
  • Withdrawal from social interactions
  • Emotional numbing
  • Persistent inability to express positive emotion, such as happiness, love or joy

Alterations in Arousal and Reactivity

The traumatic event can cause changes in your emotional reactions. Many trauma symptoms may also resemble symptoms of anxiety and depression. These may look like:

  • Irritability and/or angry outbursts
  • Mood swings
  • Hypervigilance, or feeling as if danger is always lurking
  • An exaggerated startle response
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Disturbances in sleep
  • Panic attacks

Complex Trauma

There is also a type of trauma called complex trauma. Complex trauma results when people experience severe traumatic events over a prolonged period of time. It often results from childhood traumas. Examples include childhood sexual abuse or severe neglect. In the case of complex trauma, symptoms may include:

  • DissociationAmnesia, or difficulty remembering the time around the traumatic events
  • Extreme difficulty controlling emotions like anger or anxiety
  • Decreased ability to empathize with others. In children this may cause conduct disorder. If the trauma isn’t treated, it may progress to antisocial personality disorder in adulthood.

Short-Term Trauma Symptoms vs. PTSD Symptoms

It’s possible for someone to experience something traumatizing and not develop PTSD. They might still have intense symptoms that resemble PTSD. However, in normal reactions to stress, these symptoms will stop after a few weeks. This could be diagnosed as acute stress reaction (or acute stress disorder). Full-blown PTSD will last longer than a month and seriously affect your daily life.

Symptoms of acute stress reaction and PTSD overlap. The only difference lies in how long they last. However, short-term trauma is more associated with dissociative symptoms. These include:

  • Difficulty feeling pleasure
  • Extreme emotional disconnection
  • Temporary amnesia
  • Depersonalization (feeling you are watching yourself from outside your body)
  • Derealization (feeling the world around you is unreal)

Aside from this key difference, any of the symptoms listed above in the four categories may present in either short-term trauma or PTSD.

Dual Diagnosis of Addiction & PTSD

Dealing with untreated trauma is hard. Your loved ones may be fed up with your mood swings, and you may find life spiraling out of control. Unfortunately, one common coping strategy is drinking or substance abuse. If you find yourself falling into this dangerous pattern (or if you see a loved one increase their drinking habits or suspect them of using drugs, including prescription drugs, after a traumatic event), get immediate help.

If you have developed an addiction in addition to PTSD, you have what is called a dual diagnosis. This means you have two conditions that need simultaneous treatment. Addictions and PTSD can spiral and feed off each other in dangerous ways, but there are healthier and safer coping strategies that a trained professional can teach you. You can recover from both addiction and PTSD at the right treatment facility.

What Is the First Step to Treating Trauma?

There are many types of treatment available for trauma. They include forms of therapy, medications and activities like yoga and meditation. To decide which is best for you, you may first want to meet with a behavioral health therapist or doctor. They’ll assess your symptoms and determine whether you suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Making a PTSD diagnosis involves looking at how many trauma symptoms from each category you experience. Health professionals will look at how long they have lasted. They’ll also assess the degree to which they affect functioning in your day-to-day life.

A PTSD diagnosis will help in determining the level of care you need for treatment. Even if you don’t meet criteria, you should still seek help in processing your trauma and alleviating your trauma symptoms.

What Does Treatment for Trauma Look Like?

You don’t have to live in this state of stress forever. Trauma recovery is possible. The most well-researched and common treatments for trauma are described below. Again, your doctor or therapist will help you determine which evidence-based treatment may be best for you.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Most forms of talk therapy for trauma are types of cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. In CBT you’ll learn how your thoughts influence your feelings, which in turn influence your actions. Through therapy you’ll learn to take control of thoughts and reactions you have to your trauma. This results in healthier actions and behaviors. You’ll also learn to re-conceptualize the trauma, reducing feelings of guilt and shame.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a treatment that helps you face traumatic memories and target the feelings and cognitions associated with them. Unlike some other forms of therapy, you don’t necessarily have to talk about your trauma. Your therapist will ask you to concentrate on the trauma you experienced. Meanwhile, they do something repetitive like flashing a light or moving their hand. This process allows you to remember traumas without the intense feelings of distress. When the feelings of distress are gone, you’re better able to use positive coping skills.


Medications can be helpful for managing the effects of trauma. They usually aren’t enough on their own and should be used in conjunction with therapy. Antidepressants like fluoxetine or sertraline help decrease feelings of anxiety and stress. Prazosin is a medication that can help with insomnia and nightmares.

Trauma Treatment at Lucida

Lucida treatment center offers the above treatments in a welcoming and trauma-informed setting. We also offer alternative treatments like yoga, fitness and psychodrama. Our clinicians and medical staff is trained in the effects and symptoms of trauma. Our admissions process begins with a biopsychosocial assessment. This determines what you will work on while attending our inpatient mental health treatment program.

Give us a call today at 844-874-8503 for a free assessment.

Call today to find out if Lucida is the right choice for you or your loved one. 844-878-0016