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Chronic vs. Acute Trauma

We all experience traumatic events in our lives from time to time. Trauma has no boundaries as it affects us all regardless of age, race, or gender. Trauma impacts not only an individual’s physical health, but also takes a toll on his mental health too. Because not all traumatic experiences are the same, there are different treatment strategies that can be used to treat individuals.

It’s important to know the difference between acute trauma and chronic trauma and to understand how different treatments work to help restore people to mental health and balance in life.

What is Acute Trauma?

Acute trauma is often associated with a single event that happens in one’s life. For example, acute trauma could come in the form of a car accident, theft, witnessing a violent event or an experience that threatens an individual’s physical or emotional safety. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, acute trauma is often connected with short-term post-traumatic stress disorder.1 That being said, it is important not to make assumptions. It is always best to speak with a medical professional before determining a specific diagnosis for someone.

Some Common Symptoms of Acute Trauma

A person reacting to acute trauma can have a variety of symptoms, some of which may be noticeable and others may not be as obvious.
These may include:

  • Panic or extreme anxiety
  • Confusion or irritation
  • Dissociation or feeling disconnected from himself and his surroundings
  • Insomnia or odd sleep patterns
  • Suspiciousness or acting in strange ways
  • Poor grooming habits or a lack of self-care
  • Loss of focus or production at work or school

Any of these problems can stem from a traumatic experience. If you or someone you care about is experiencing any of these symptoms, please seek help. These can also be symptoms of other issues such as substance abuse, stress, depression and more, so please do not delay. If you are not sure, please feel free to call our helpline above, and we will help you sort out the situation. Acute trauma is still a serious matter, even if it is often more short-term in nature.

Treatment Options for Acute Trauma

When a person is suffering from acute trauma, there are several treatment strategies that can help, including the following:

  • Immediate emotional support
  • Removal from the scene of the trauma
  • Short-term use of medication to relieve grief or anxiety
  • Medicinal or natural strategies to combat insomnia
  • Short-term therapy to return to feeling safe and secure
  • With help from others, individuals can move past the damage of acute trauma

As you can see, there is no one specific form of treatment for acute trauma.

All too often, those struggling with trauma self-medicate with drugs or alcohol as a way to deal with it, unaware of the serious health consequences that may result. It is also common for people who have experience acute trauma to pull away from their friends and loved ones. Whenever this happens, the individual is more likely to struggle with depression, which is only exacerbated by substance abuse. If this is happening, it is important to seek help. A medical doctor or therapist can help diagnose and plan a proper course of treatment for acute trauma.

What Is Chronic Trauma?

#MeTooUnlike acute trauma, chronic trauma results from incidents that have occurred over and over again in a person’s life, including, for example:

  • Long term child abuse
  • War or combat situations
  • Ongoing sexual abuse
  • Living in a domestically violent environment

Survivors of this kind of trauma will likely require more treatment as the pain lasts much longer with chronic trauma. For example, if an individual has served in the armed forces and has been involved in a combat situation over a longer period of time, he may have a hard time making the adjustment to civilian life.

Post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) can be a very serious issue. In addition, PTSD than can affect survivors of not only combat experience, but also terrorist attacks, natural disasters, serious accidents, or assault or abuse.

Common Symptoms of Chronic Trauma

Unlike the cases of individuals who experienced an acute trauma, the symptoms of chronic trauma may not come to the surface for an extended amount of time — in some cases, even years after the event. According to the American Psychological Association, some longer-term reactions to trauma can include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea.3

Living with a chronic trauma often requires that a person take any of the following actions:

  • Attempt to survive using a variety of survival mechanisms such as rationalization
  • Adapt to the greatest extent possible
  • Attempt to minimize the impact of the chronic trauma by ignoring it or going into denial about the problem

Because these strategies are reactive and defensive, a person suffering from chronic trauma may experience any of the following problems:

  • Confusion
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Rage
  • Overreactions
  • Misperceptions of the individual’s environment
  • Impaired memories
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of sleep

If you recognize any of these symptoms in someone who has survived chronic trauma, it is possible that some behavioral problems may develop. When a person does not receive treatment to deal with chronic trauma, he may demonstrate any of the following behaviors:

  • Sexual avoidance
  • Sexual promiscuity or participation in risky sexual encounters
  • Fighting or violence
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Unhealthy personal relationships

As a result of these behaviors, it is common for an individual to experience legal problems. For example, if someone is participating in alcohol abuse, he is also more likely to get into a fight or drive a vehicle under the influence. This individual may even act differently and may lose interest in normal activities that he once enjoyed. He may be very engaged when interacting with others or even avoid contact with others. It is possible that he is missing more work than normal or his physical appearance has changed due to the side effects of the chronic trauma.

How To Get Help Dealing with Trauma

The great news is that anyone who suffers from any kind of trauma can recover. We at Skywood are ready to help. We know how you feel, and we are proud to offer the highest quality care available to help you live a better life. We have a proven track record of success and offer customized care to each individual. If you are struggling with a substance abuse problem, we can help with that as well.

If you have already tried treatment before, that is not a problem at all. It is important to try a variety of treatment methods to help you grow and heal. Give us a try by speaking with one of our trained professionals on our toll-free helpline today at 269.280.4673. We are available 24 hours a day to answer any questions you might have about counseling and trauma.


1 Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health, Accessed July 16, 2018.

2 “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).” National Mental Institute of Health, Accessed July 16, 2018.

3 Trauma.” American Psychological Association, Accessed July 16, 2018.