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What Are Trauma Disorders?

Trauma disorders, more broadly known as trauma and stressor-related disorders, are a subset of mental health conditions that include the experience of a traumatic or extremely stressful event. While not everyone who experiences a trauma will develop a disorder, those who do can typically trace the cause directly to a specific situation or event.

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There are different types of trauma disorders. One of the most common and well known is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Other trauma disorders include acute stress disorder (ASD), reactive attachment disorder (RAD), and disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED). While they share similarities, each disorder is unique and requires treatment that is tailored to the needs of each individual.

Trauma disorders require treatment by trained mental health professionals. If left untreated, they can lead to worsening symptoms and additional mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. In some cases, a trauma disorder can become severe enough to disrupt a person’s daily life, placing heavy strain on work and relationships.


If you believe yourself or a loved one are suffering from a trauma disorder, Pyramid Family Behavioral Health is here to help

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Types of Trauma Disorders and Symptoms

There are several trauma disorders that are grouped together in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The four most commonly diagnosed trauma disorders include:

These disorders share a similar cause in that they all can be traced back to a traumatic event or experience. Common symptoms across all trauma disorders include:

  • Fear
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Stress
  • Depression and other negative emotions
  • Nightmares and flashbacks

Trauma disorder can also affect a person’s behaviors. They may cause social withdrawal, loss of interest in activities, anger, and even violent outbursts. Below, we will further detail the four types of trauma disorders.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Symptoms

When most people experience a traumatic event they may initially have difficulty coping and adjusting; however, these difficulties are often temporary and improve with time. In some cases, symptoms may persist or grow worse as time progresses. This is often a sign of PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD will vary for each person and often begin within a month of the traumatic experience. These symptoms can make work and social situations difficult. They can also interfere with relationships. Symptoms are grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, changes in behavior, and changes in mood and emotional reactions.

Intrusive Memories

Often, a person with PTSD will have intrusive memories of the traumatic event. These memories can be caused by a trigger or simply come back at any time. Examples of intrusive memories include:

  • Vivid nightmares related to the traumatic event.
  • Flashbacks which make the person feel as though they are re-experiencing the event.


Someone with PTSD will often take precautions to avoid situations, media, or even people that trigger memories of the traumatic event. In many cases, a person with PTSD will even avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event. Common examples of avoidance behaviors include:

  • Avoiding crowds, public places, or other areas that may trigger memories of the event
  • Avoiding everyday activities, such as driving, if it relates to the trauma
  • Avoiding media such as movies, images, and even the news that may cause memories of the experience

Changes in Behavior

Behavioral changes are common in individuals suffering from PTSD. The most common behavioral change is known as hyperarousal. Someone who is experiencing hyperarousal will always be on the lookout for danger. They may also become suddenly angry or irritable, especially if they believe they are in danger. Additional examples of changes in behavior include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Being easily startled

Changes in Mood

Someone who has experienced a traumatic event and suffers from PTSD will often have changes in their mood and thoughts. This can have many effects on their life, including:

  • Feelings of distance from loved ones
  • Loss or repression of memories about the traumatic event
  • Believing the world is completely dangerous
  • Paranoia and inability to trust others

If you’ve experienced a traumatic event and have had changes in your mood, intrusive thoughts and memories, or behavioral changes lasting for more than a month, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional right away. It’s important to receive treatment to help prevent PTSD symptoms from growing worse.

Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) Symptoms

Acute stress disorder (ASD) can develop after an individual experiences a traumatic event.

Symptoms begin or worsen immediately following the event and can last from three days to one month. If symptoms continue for longer than a month, a mental health professional can assess for post-traumatic stress disorder. If the individual is diagnosed with PTSD, the ASD diagnosis would no longer apply.

Someone experiencing ASD will display symptoms similar to PTSD, including:

Re-experiencing the traumatic event:

  • Intrusive thoughts and images of the event
  • Frequent nightmares related to the event
  • Flashbacks and episodes of reliving the traumatic experience

Avoidance behaviors:

  • Avoiding media such as movies and imagery that may trigger memories of the event
  • Avoiding people or places that the individual associates with the trauma
  • Avoiding everyday activities that may be related to or remind the person of the experience

Increased arousal:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Constantly on edge

Many people with ASD are often later diagnosed with PTSD. If you have experienced a traumatic event and are having difficulty re-adjusting, including persistent feelings of distress or anxiety, speak with your doctor or a mental health professional right away. Treatment can help prevent symptoms from progressing and becoming worse.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) Symptoms

Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is a rare condition which affects children during developmental stages of their life. RAD most often affects younger children, but can be experienced as early as infancy.

Reactive attachment disorder can develop if a child’s basic needs for care and nurturing are absent. In these cases, children are unable to form attachments with others. RAD is most often caused by neglect and maltreatment during early childhood.

Symptoms of reactive attachment disorder include:

  • Inhibited and emotionally withdrawn behavior
  • Minimal response to comfort from caregivers when distressed

In addition, to meet DSM-5 criteria, children must also exhibit two of the following symptoms:

  • Minimal social and emotional responsiveness to others
  • Limited positive affect
  • Unexplained episodes of irritability, sadness, or fearfulness

Children with RAD must also have experienced insufficient care such as:

  • Frequent changes in caregivers which limits the child’s ability to form stable attachments
  • Persistent lack of affection from parents or caregivers
  • Growing up in an unusual or unstable setting which limits the child’s ability to form attachments

Without treatment, reactive attachment disorder can continue into late childhood and may cause lifelong consequences.

Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED) Symptoms

Disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED) is an attachment disorder that affects children. DSED occurs in children who have experienced trauma or neglect. The main feature of DSED is a lack of social fear or adherence to cultural social norms. This is most often seen in over-familiarity with strangers. Children with DSED are so comfortable around strangers they feel no danger in entering a car with an unfamiliar adult. In addition, children with this disorder tend to experience difficulty forming connections with others.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), children must have at least two of the following symptoms to be diagnosed with DSED:

  • Intense excitement or a lack of inhibition over meeting or interacting with strangers or unfamiliar adults
  • Behaviors with strangers that are overly friendly, talkative, or physical and not age-appropriate or culturally acceptable
  • Willingness or desire to leave a safe place or situation with a stranger
  • Lack of desire or interest in checking in with a trusted adult prior to leaving a safe place, or in a situation that seems foreign, strange, or threatening

Treatment for Trauma Disorders

A trauma disorder can upturn a person’s life, making relationships, work, and even everyday tasks seem impossible. Fortunately, treatment options are available to help individuals cope with trauma and recover to a normal life. Most treatment options fall under psychotherapy or medication.

Psychotherapy Treatment for Trauma Disorders

There are many types of psychotherapy techniques that are used to treat trauma disorders. Some of the most common psychotherapy techniques include:

Cognitive behavioral therapy: Typically abbreviated to CBT, this type of therapy helps a patient recognize their ways of thinking that are causing them to remain stuck or unable to cope with their feelings. This can include learning to cope with negative, intrusive thoughts relating to the traumatic event.

Exposure therapy: This technique involves allowing the patient to safely face both situations and memories they find frightening. This process takes time and patience in order to see successful progress, so it’s best practiced with a licensed mental health professional.

Through careful but persistent exposure therapy, patients can learn to cope with flashbacks and nightmares.

Medication Treatment for Trauma Disorders

While psychotherapy is often successful in helping to treat trauma disorders and help patients develop healthy coping strategies, medication is commonly used in conjunction to help further alleviate symptoms. Commonly prescribed medications include:

Antidepressants: These medications can help symptoms of depression and anxiety. They can also help improve sleep problems and concentration. The selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications sertraline (Zoloft) and paroxetine (Paxil) are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for PTSD treatment.

Anti-anxiety medications: These drugs can relieve severe anxiety and related problems. Some anti-anxiety medications have the potential for abuse, so they are generally used only for a short time.

Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare Can Help

Anyone can experience a traumatic event, and each event and how an individual responds to the event is unique. This means each individual will require their own treatment plan that is tailored to their needs.

At Pyramid Family Behavioral Healthcare, our team of mental health experts are here to help create personalized treatment programs that utilize a variety of evidence-based therapeutic techniques. Contact us today to begin your path to recovery.

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