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Can It Get Any Worse? PTSD Grows In Veterans Long After the Trauma

Update Date: Jun 21, 2017 08:32 AM EDT

You might assume that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after experiencing war firsthand can't get worse. Apparently, it can.

Researchers at the National Center for PTSD in Boston found that exhibiting risking behavior can exacerbate symptoms of PTSD. In a study involving 200 veterans with PTSD, the scientists discovered a correlation between risky behavior, such as gambling and drunken driving, and greater severity of PTSD.

It doesn't stop there. They also found that risky behavior was linked to the probability of experiencing a potentially traumatic event, such as being threatened or involved in a car accident.

The authors explain, "Driving while intoxicated, for example, increases the likelihood of experiencing a traumatic motor vehicle accident, overt aggression can elicit assaultive behavior from others, and drug use can increase exposure to drug-related crime and physical injury." To put it simply, risky behaviors could lead to more stressful experiences or trauma, which can lead to more severe PTSD symptoms. 

Dr. Naomi Sadeh, an author of the article published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, states, "For individuals with PTSD, exposure to new stressful events will often prolong their symptoms and can even make them worse. So these findings suggest that treatment providers should ask trauma-exposed veterans about reckless behavior to make sure they are not engaging in harmful behaviors that could make their PTSD symptoms worse."

On top of all of this, veterans are about 50 percent more likely to commit suicide than civilians, are more frequently incarcerated, and are more prone to reckless driving, have higher rates of drinking excessively and problematic gambling -- which is why these results are of specific interest to the VA.

Treatment and assessment of these individuals must be prioritized, the researchers warn: "Considering the number of veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD and are reintegrated into society, understanding how reckless behaviors relate to the maintenance of PTSD symptoms is an important area of study."

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