Why is it Important to Know the Differences Between TBI and PTSD Symptoms?

1Traumatic brain injury (TBI) happens to some people when they experience an incident that affects brain function. For people who live with TBI, they may also experience symptoms of post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD). The combination of this can be devastating for people to live with because it makes their behavior and actions unpredictable at times. There are also people who struggle with one or the other. They do not always occur together. The rate of PTSD after brain injury is higher in veterans than civilians because they are exposed to combat. Up to 35% of returning veterans with mild brain injury also have PTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD

Symptoms of PTSD develop over time. People are at increased risk for depression, substance use, sleep disorders, and more as a result of traumatic injury they may have sustained or experience that caused an impact on the way they experience the world. Some symptoms are mild while others are severe. These include:

  • Repeated memories of the event or events
  • Avoiding people, places, or sounds that remind them of the event
  • Detached feelings from people and family
  • Survivor guilt if they survived while others were more seriously injured or died
  • Flashbacks to the event where they relive it over again

PTSD is a disorder that focuses on mental health more than anything, but it can also play a role in physical health. Even if physical trauma is not present, a person can experience symptoms that are physical in nature. Stress plays a huge factor in this, as well. TBI is a neurological disorder, different from PTSD, but also impacts different aspects of the brain.

How TBI Differs from PTSD

The difference with TBI is in how the brain thinks, learns, and the ways a person can function differently than with PTSD. The brain is very complex with the possible effects of a traumatic injury that are different for each person. When PTSD and TBI coexist, it is difficult to know what is happening. Changes in cognition like memory, depression, and fatigue are common with both diagnoses. A person basically feeds and reinforces the other so it makes things really complicated. Some other key differences may include:

  • A period of amnesia just before or after the injury occurred is common. Before a crash, explosion, or other incidents that cause the TBI, a person may not remember some of the events leading up to or immediately following it
  • PTSD is often associated with haunting, intrustive thoughts and memories of what happened as if the person relives it day in and day out
  • Sleep disorders can happen frequently with TBI, including waking early, difficulty staying asleep, or disruption to normal sleep patterns
  • Survivors of TBI really support visits of friends and coworkers change over time. Social isolation can feel difficult, even for people with PTSD who experience similar issues
  • Cognitive fatigue is a big issue with brain injury. Thinking and learning become harder. Emotions are unpredictable and a person may not know how to respond emotionally

Substance Abuse

When the effects of substance abuse hit people, the effects are magnified. Drinking alcohol increases the issues people with TBI experience, including slower reaction times, judgment, and interaction with medication. There is no safe amount of alcohol to drink when on pills. With PTSD, a person may use drugs to self-medicate. This risky behavior can occur in military veterans, first responders, or anyone who experiences PTSD. this may create future memory issues, along with thinking, and behavioral disorders. 

Hope for Healing

PTSD and TBI are serious conditions that impact people’s lives and make recovery from addiction a challenge. Whatever the diagnosis, it can be a struggle to find healing. There is no cure for TBI and PTSD. People simply manage to deal with the challenges they face. Perhaps they are dealing with it while they have a lot of support and some may have just a few people who are behind them. It is hard to reach out and ask for help. A brain injury requires specialized treatment to help people cope with their new reality. There is no simple answer as to the impact of TBI and PTSD. with a diagnosis, there are different ways the conditions may overlap. By pursuing the quest for treatment, they may gather accurate information and enlist the support of peers and family. They may seek to figure out how to deal with all the things going on at once and feel overwhelmed. Family and loved ones are really a key to getting the right support for these conditions it is important to make it a source of hope and joy to find help for addiction, PTSD, and/or TBI. People with TBI and PTSD may seek help begrudgingly, but soon they may realize how lucky they are to get help and finally accept what is being offered to them. It can take time for people to seek help and for it to begin reshaping their lives but they can find hope after these conditions. With love and support, they can find their way back to hope and healing. 

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