Acute Stress Disorder vs. PTSD | What is the Difference?

Acute Stress Disorder vs. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

long term effects of ptsd

ptsd vs. acute stress disorderExamining the differences between acute stress disorder vs. post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may seem fairly straightforward. However, as with most mental health disorders, every individual copes with intense stress differently. Acute stress disorder refers to the body’s immediate response to trauma, whereas PTSD is the long-term aftermath of trauma. It can be difficult to identify symptoms given that both surface in much the same ways. Learn more about acute stress disorder vs. PTSD below and signs of each. 

How Are Stress and Anxiety Related?

Although stress and anxiety share many of the same emotional and physical symptoms, including uneasiness, tension, headaches, high blood pressure, and sleep loss, they have very different origins. Determining which one you’re experiencing is critical to finding an effective treatment plan and feeling better.

Stress is caused mostly by external factors such as being fired or arguing with a family member. Anxiety, alternatively, is often caused by internal factors and can be classified in a variety of ways, including:

  • Obsessive-Disorder (OCD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Social Anxiety

Unlike stress, anxiety can persist long-term. If left untreated, acute stress disorder—the most immediate response to a traumatic event—can quickly transform to more chronic anxiety known as PTSD. 

Regardless of their differences, anxiety, and stress are prominent mental health concerns impacting millions. An estimated 40 million Americans are currently living with some type of anxiety disorder. In Colorado, nearly 18% of residents face challenges, including substance abuse, often brought forth by mental illness. Currently, anxiety disorders are viewed as the most common mental health illness. Anxiety, as it relates to stress and trauma, is highly treatable. Still, only 37% receive the treatment they need. 

Speaking with a licensed therapist can help give you or a loved one of the tools needed to overcome unexpected, life-altering traumatic events. If you believe you are suffering from acute stress disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder, attention to mental health and seeking support services can help you overcome trauma. Contact us 24/7 directly at 855-281-5588 to learn more about our integrative therapy and substance abuse treatment programs. 

Defining Acute Stress Disorder vs. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Definitively, acute stress disorder can last up to one month, whereas PTSD can persist for years, even decades. Both usually originate from a single or even multiple traumatic events. For this reason, mental health therapy and treatment programs must address specifics of underlying events that may have given rise to persistent anxiety.  

It’s best to seek treatment programs that address both substance use and underlying or co-occurring mental health disorders, such as PTSD and trauma, to overcome each. 

Additionally, factors like substance abuse and other co-occurring mental illness may play a role in how specific individuals seem more affected by Acute Stress Disorder or PTSD. Often, individuals may seek relief by self-medicating or turning to more severe substances to help ease bouts of anxiety. Substance use and abuse may exacerbate acute stress disorder or PTSD. 

Understanding the Cause of Stress Disorders

acute stress disorder vs. ptsdUnderstanding the cause of acute stress disorder vs. PTSD can prove challenging, given that everyone’s experiences can differ drastically. Several external factors may play a role in the experienced symptoms of anxiety or stress. Because PTSD often hints at long-term symptoms, complex trauma may be a significant culprit. Other external factors that may lead to both acute stress disorder the PTSD include::

  • Abuse History
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Financial concerns
  • Legal matters
  • Natural disasters
  • Relationship problems

More recently, research has begun to realize trauma-related disorders are not caused by just a single traumatic event, but can also be caused by a culmination of several stressor events. This new concept of trauma is often referred to as complex trauma. 

Effectiveness of Treating Trauma

Trauma is a difficult topic to discuss due to its constantly changing form. Some individuals may experience a life-altering event. Unfortunately, an official diagnosis of PTSD or other trauma-related disorders can be overlooked or go undiagnosed at alarming rates. However, a formal diagnosis of trauma or stressor-related disorders, like acute stress disorder, is essential for proper treatment and avoidance of the onset of PTSD. When examining acute stress disorder vs. PTSD, it’s crucial to think of each being linked. Acute stress disorder is an immediate response to a distressing event which, when left untreated, develop into PTSD.

Trauma-focused treatment is an essential topic in the field of psychology and continues to be extensively researched. AspenRidge offers access to several trauma-focused clinicians who can help in seeking support for possible PTSD or other mental health disorders. AspenRidge understands that past trauma and abuse are often correlated with substance use and dependence. Our staff provides a confidential and safe environment to discuss your history of trauma.

What Are Trauma-Related Disorders?

According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Psychological Disorders, trauma-related disorders are defined as the existence of symptoms due to multiple or a single event that “cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” This is a broad term and is often used to define several mental health disorders. 

What makes Trauma or Stressor-Related Disorders different from other mental health concerns includes the individual’s perception of safety and perseveration of such traumatic experiences. Many times, trauma disorders can consist of frequent triggers that impact an individual frequently. Trauma disorders are significantly different from anxiety disorders and should not be treated the same. 

AspenRidge can help assess the differences between an anxiety disorder or trauma and or stressor related-disorder.

What Are Common Trauma-Related Disorders?

A common diagnosis associated with trauma-related disorders is PTSD. It is helpful to clarify the difference between  Acute Stress Disorder vs. PTSD as they are quite similar. Symptoms for both Acute Stress Disorder and PTSD, as indicated by the American Institute of Stress state include symptoms such as:

  • Intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic event.
  • Distressful dreams.
  • Negative mood symptoms or persistent inability to experience pleasure or positive feelings
  • Dissociative symptoms such as feeling “outside of your body”
  • Hyperarousal
  • Hyper-avoidance
  • A significant amount of guilt about an event

One aspect that often determines the difference between Acute Stress vs. PTSD is the sustained direct exposure to a traumatic event. A person held at gunpoint during a robbery is more likely to experience PTSD than a passerby who called the police. They were not as close in proximity to the event and, therefore, may not have the same triggers. Both students may experience both Acute Stress Disorder and PTSD. In general, Acute Stress Disorder may transform into PTSD depending on several factors, which include

  • Victimization
  • Proximity to a life-altering event
  • Pre-existing conditions
  • Availability of mental health support

Research does show a prompt response and treatment for both Acute Stress Disorder and PTSD can limit the significance of symptoms correlated with the traumatic event. In other words, both are highly treatable when addressed through cognitive and evidence-based therapy and treatment services. 

How Is Acute Stress Disorder and PTSD Treated?

treating ptsdTreating Trauma-Related disorders can be difficult, but several treatment methods have been proven to be significantly useful. As indicated above, trauma-related conditions have become an essential topic over more recent years, and several treatments have been created in the past 20 years. 

When treating PTSD, Acute Stress Disorder, or other trauma disorders, it is vital to approach trained personnel. Such personnel can adequately treat these symptoms safely and effectively. Some methods used for anxiety disorders include psychotherapy, exposure therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and several other interpersonal therapies. 

Assessment is an integral part of understanding how trauma can impact an individual’s life. Because of every unique circumstance, it is crucial to speak with trained providers about recommended treatment modalities and programs. It is best to choose among tailored approaches, explicitly designed for you or a loved one’s needs. 

How Can AspenRidge Help?

AspenRidge has developed a multi-faceted program that addresses several factors that contribute to mental health concerns related to substance abuse. AspenRidge understands that trauma may substantially impact substance use and dependence, and offer trauma-focused care throughout our phase-oriented process. 

AspenRidge operates from a holistic perspective, as well, and is dedicated to tailoring treatment as much as possible to each client. This includes trauma-related experiences, and the challenges that occur due to trauma are challenging and real. AspenRidge provides a safe environment for those who have experienced trauma or other stressful events in their life to develop and maintain sobriety.

Prospective clients may contact AspenRidge Recovery Centers at 855-281-5588 to schedule an assessment and speak to staff about various programs. Gaining knowledge before taking the steps towards recovery is essential and AspenRidge is determined to provide useful, clear information. Further information can also be found at

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