Signs of PTSD in teenagers… and how to treat PTSD and addiction

Any type of traumatic event can lead to PTSD in teenagers. How can you recognize symptoms of PTSD in your teen and seek treatment help? We explain here.

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PTSD Isn’t Just for Soldiers

People often associate Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with soldiers in combat. However, there are a number of life circumstances that can lead to the development of PTSD such as witnessing a death or experiencing abuse. It is even possible for very young children to experience post-traumatic stress.

For teens, PTSD often gets overlooked because the symptoms sometimes manifest in ways that looks like other mental health conditions. For this reason, you should be aware of the unique ways that PTSD affects teens so that you can make sure they get the right type of help.

More about what causes PTSD in teenagers, how is it manifested, and the appropriate addiction treatment for teens with PTSD here. At the end, we invite you to post any questions you still have. We try to respond personally and promptly to all real life questions.

What Leads to PTSD in Teens?

It is important to understand that any type of traumatic event can lead to PTSD. However, not all people who go through a trauma will develop this mental health condition. Multiple factors can influence how a person will react during the healing process, such as:

  • the person’s current state of mental health
  • the level of physical or emotional damage that was felt
  • the amount of support a person receives after the trauma

It is also essential for adults to recognize what may constitute trauma for a teenager.

  1. Bullying, especially if it is prolonged, is a common cause of PTSD in teens since daily events such as going to school can feel like heading to a battleground.
  2. Sexual assault can lead to PTSD.
  3. Verbal abuse can lead to PTSD in teens.
  4. Witnessing a crime can lead to PTSD in teens.
  5. Natural disasters can trigger PTSD. The potential for a teen developing PTSD should also be considered if they have been involved in a natural disaster such as a house fire or major flood.

What Does PTSD Look Like For Young Adults?

A first sign of underlying problems can include withdrawal. Teenagers are quite adept at hiding their feelings, especially if they are trying to cover up their involvement in something they think was wrong. For this reason, parents sometimes find that their child suddenly withdraws. This is common with sexual assault where a teen may be afraid of getting someone else in trouble.

However, PTSD symptoms will gradually become more noticeable as they affect a teenager’s life. For example, a parent may:

  • hear their teen cry out during a nightmare
  • listen to the teenager may describe reliving the events of a past traumatic event

Once the symptoms become intense, teens may go one of two ways by either experiencing a sense of numbness or intense feelings that are beyond their control.

RESPONSE 1: The Avoidant/Numbness Response

This type of response is essentially a teen’s mind and body shutting down due to the intensity of their symptoms. For parents trying to get their child help, this can be frustrating because the teen may struggle with recalling details of the traumatic event. They may also refuse to share their emotions or just claim that they don’t care. The apathy can also extend to other areas of their life, and parents may notice a drop in grades along with reduced social activity.

RESPONSE 2: What Does Hypersensitivity Look Like?

In contrast to numbness, hypersensitivity can also occur in teens with PTSD. Here are a few examples:

  • A teen may find themselves suddenly unable to sleep.
  • They may experience intense anxiety that interferes with their ability to go about their normal lives.
  • In some instances, this can include physical symptoms such as a racing heartbeat, sweating and nausea.

Exposure to things that remind the teen of the traumatic event can intensify these feelings. For example, a teen who was physically assaulted at a local park may feel the same emotional response as they drive by the playground as they experienced on the initial day of the trauma.

Is It Possible For Other Conditions To Coexist With PTSD?

Yes! Anxiety and depression are commonly present with PTSD.

Unfortunately, teenagers are often unaware of what PTSD is, and they feel guilty or ashamed of their reaction which leads to the development of mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. Alternatively, a teen may already have a mental health condition that increases the risk of developing PTSD because they are ill equipped to appropriately handle the trauma. Treating coexisting conditions at the same time helps teens recover from PTSD. This is why mental health professionals recommend assessing every teen with PTSD for other conditions that may not have been recognized in the past.

Which Types Of Treatment Best Help Teenagers?

When treating teenagers for PTSD, it is best to take a well-rounded approach.

1. Talk therapy. This type of therapy is a common treatment that allows teens to gradually open up about their experience under the guidance of a trained professional who can teach them coping skills.

2. Group therapy. Teens also find group therapy helpful because finding other people their age who are also struggling with trauma makes them feel normal again.

3. Medication assisted therapy. For some teens, medication is also an option that helps them regain control over their anxiety as they work towards healing.

4. Addiction treatment. When a teen has turned to drugs or alcohol to deal with their PTSD symptoms, it may also be necessary to include addiction treatment strategies in their program.

Over time, teens typically find one or more of these types of treatments works best for them and learn how to incorporate them into their daily living.

Can PTSD Recur?


Although PTSD can recur, especially if a similar trauma is experienced, teenagers who have worked through treatment are more likely to bounce back faster.

While everyone wants to know when they will get better, the truth is that recovering from PTSD looks different for everyone. Where one teen may start to show progress within a few weeks, others can take years to truly feel normal again. Family members and friends who play a supporting role can ease their loved one through this process by accepting their emotional responses as normal. Once a teen learns coping strategies to help with their PTSD, the symptoms will gradually wane.

PTSD In Teenagers Questions

Dealing with PTSD as a teen is hard work, but more teens are beginning to exhibit symptoms of this mental health condition due to the rise in bullying and natural disasters. Knowing how to identify the signs of PTSD in teens and get them the right type of help will ensure that they can move forward without experiencing the debilitating symptoms associated with this mental health condition.

If you have any questions or are thinking of seeking help for symptoms of PTSD in yourself or your teenager son or daughter, please leave them in the designated section at the end of the page. We try to answer personally and promptly to all legitimate inquiries. In case we don’t know the answer to your question we will gladly refer you to professionals who can help.

About the author
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY17766), a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist and a Certified Youth Residential Treatment Administrator. Dr. Nalin is the Founder and Clinical Director of Paradigm Malibu and Paradigm San Francisco Adolescent Treatment Centers. He has been responsible for the direct care of young people at multiple institutions of learning including; The Los Angeles Unified School District, the University of California at San Diego, Santa Monica College, and Pacific University. He was instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
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