What Happens in Your Brain During a PTSD Flashback?

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When American soldiers came home from the Vietnam War, many found it hard to return to normal life. They were haunted by nightmares; unable to shake the images of explosions and death from their minds, even while awake. They struggled with feelings of anxiety, depression, and anger; confused about how to to make sense of what they had witnessed. In 1980, the afflictions of these soldiers — along with research on the psychological impact of trauma on Holocaust survivors, rape victims, and others — led the American Psychiatric Association to define a new condition called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the DSM.

Although people often associate PTSD with veterans affected by the horrors of war, the condition can develop in anyone who has experienced a dangerous, shocking, or life-threatening event such as rape, childhood abuse, or a serious accident. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD will affect 6.8% of U.S. adults in their lifetime. The condition is defined by symptoms like panic attacks, depression, and insomnia, but one of the most characteristic and debilitating symptoms of PTSD is something called “flashbacks.” Continue reading What Happens in Your Brain During a PTSD Flashback?

Is Addiction a Mental Illness?

man drinking bottle bar

Today, it’s widely accepted by major scientific associations that addiction is a medical illness. The National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDA] and the American Psychiatric Association [APA] both define addiction as a “brain disease,” and the DSM-V lists criteria for classifying addiction as a mental health condition called “Substance Use Disorder.”

However, it wasn’t always this way. In the United States, there’s a long history of vilifying not only drugs and alcohol, but also the people who use them. Less than a century ago, addiction wasn’t seen as an illness outside of one’s control, but rather as a moral failing rooted in one’s personality.

In the 1930s, when scientists first began to study addiction, the prevailing view was that addicts were simply those too weak in willpower to say no. Because addiction wasn’t seen as an illness, there was no concept of treating it with rehabilitation centers and 12-step programs. Instead, heavy users of drugs and alcohol were seen as degenerates and criminals and were treated accordingly; they were imprisoned or institutionalized so as not to be a nuisance to society. Continue reading Is Addiction a Mental Illness?