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PTSD and Negative Coping

Topic Overview

With post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you may try to deal with problems in ways that cause more harm than good. This is called negative coping. Negative coping means you use quick fixes that may make a situation worse in the long run.

Here are some examples of negative coping skills:

Substance abuse

Taking a lot of drugs or alcohol to feel better is called substance abuse. You may try to use drugs or alcohol to escape your problems, help you sleep, or make your symptoms go away.

Substance abuse can cause serious problems. Drinking or using drugs can put your relationships, your job, and your health in jeopardy. You may become more likely to be mean or violent. When you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you may make bad decisions.

Avoiding others

Certain situations may cause you stress, make you angry, or remind you of bad memories. Because of this, you may try to avoid other people at times. You may even avoid your friends and family.

Avoiding others can make you feel isolated. Isolation is when you tend to be alone a lot, rather than spending time around other people.

When you distance yourself from others, your problems may seem to build up. You may have more negative thoughts or feel like you're facing life all alone.

Anger and violent behavior

You may feel a lot of anger at times. Your anger may cause you to lose your temper and do reckless things. You may distance yourself from people who want to help.

This is understandable. It's natural to feel angry after going through something traumatic. But anger and violent behavior can cause problems in your life and make it harder for you to recover.

Dangerous behavior

You also may cope by doing things that are dangerous. For example, you may drive too fast or be quick to start a fight when someone upsets you. You may end up hurting yourself or someone else.

How you deal with stress also can be dangerous. If you start smoking, or smoke more, you put your health in danger. Eating to relieve stress also can be dangerous if you gain too much weight.

Working too much

Work is a good thing. You learn new things, interact with others, and gain confidence. But working too much can be a form of avoidance. You may be working to avoid memories or to help yourself forget about the event. This is dangerous because:

  • You may not seek help for your PTSD.
  • You're not spending time with your family and friends. Being with them and getting their support may help you recover and deal better with PTSD.
  • You may work so much that you eat less and get little sleep. This can hurt your health, so you're more likely to get sick.

What can I do?

Changing how you cope with PTSD is part of your recovery. Here are some things you can do.

  • Talk to a doctor or counselor. You may need help changing your behavior. You also may be addicted to alcohol or drugs, which makes quitting on your own hard.
  • Get involved with a support group for PTSD. You can find out about support groups from your doctor, from some friends, or on the Internet.
  • Talk to your family and friends about things that bother you. They can offer you emotional support as you change your habits or behavior.
  • Get involved with social and community events. Volunteer at a sporting event or holiday festival. Connect with other people through clubs or religious groups. Find hobbies and interests that bring you in contact with others.

For information on alcohol abuse, see the topic Alcohol Abuse and Dependence.

For information on quitting smoking, see the topic Quitting Smoking.

For information on eating healthy, see the topic Healthy Eating.

For more information on PTSD, see the topic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Jessica Hamblen, PhD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Last Revised January 9, 2013

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