PTSD Awareness Month: Exposure to natural disasters could result in alcohol abuse and PTSD in adolescents, finds study

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that develops when an adolescent is exposed to some or the other traumatic event, such as sexual abuse, physical assault, violence, accident, etc. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, adolescents with PTSD are more likely to reenact a traumatic experience they have faced by incorporating its varied aspects into their daily lives. Moreover, they are also more likely to exhibit impulsive and violent behaviors as compared to younger children or adults

A recent study that was presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in San Diego also suggests that adolescents who are exposed to natural and environmental disasters display a higher level of alcohol misuse and emotional trauma as compared to those who have not experienced the same.

With a focus on studying the importance of social support and easy access to mental health services for adolescents who have experienced psychological distress, the study found that teens who survived both Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 displayed signs of anger and experienced family issues.

Hurricane Katrina was one of the worst natural disasters of the era to hit New Orleans, U.S., that took around 1,833 lives and flooded significant portions causing extensive damage apart from the loss of lives. While the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, reportedly killed 11 people when an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon Macondo oil well spilled millions of gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

Depression strongest predictor of PTSD

The study was conducted on 459 students from high schools in St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana, each with an average age of 15.7 years (56 percent whites and 29 percent black). The researchers used data from the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center’s, Department of Psychiatry, Disaster Interview Survey completed by the students. The participants were made to complete a survey that posed questions such as, the severity of exposure to the disasters; socioeconomic status; feelings of anger, depression and loneliness; family problems; and level of alcohol use.

During the multiple regression analysis, it was found that factors such as alcohol use, the exposure to oil spill and hurricane, family issues, depression and anger predicted the risk of PTSD. Among these, depression, followed by anger and loneliness, was found to be the strongest predictor of the condition. Dr. Joy D. Osofsky, professor of pediatrics and psychiatry, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, said, “Adolescents certainly use risk-taking behaviors as a way to deal with their stress and their anger.”

It was also found that children of healthy parents were more likely to display healthy symptoms. However, a number of family issues that could impact the children’s health were also discovered during the course of the study. Dr. Osofsky said, “Not only did we see alcohol abuse in some adolescents, we saw alcohol abuse in the families, as well as substance use and domestic violence and a number of other things.”

Treatment can help

Children affected by PTSD should be reassured that they are healthy and their urgent medical needs should be attended to on a priority basis. These children should be provided with a safe environment, emotional support and nurturance.

Dr. Osofsky advises, “To secure the mental health of youngsters exposed to disasters, the emphasis should not be limited to psychotherapy or psychopharmacology, but on other ways also to help support children and families.”

She also emphasized on the importance of integrating mental health services for children. In Dr. Osofsky’s words, “The idea of integrating more trauma-informed care and mental health services is to de-stigmatize PTSD. This will make a significant difference for the adolescent population.”

Although, it is very likely that adolescents with PTSD might begin to display signs of improvement over a period of time, it is important to seek help if no progress is noticed in them.

When one in every eight children suffers from anxiety, it becomes imperative to look into the condition, its various forms and effective treatments available for it. Keeping this in mind, the National Center for PTSD (NCPTSD) observes the month of June as PTSD Awareness Month.

Pledging to help a teen recover from this condition, let us connect teens suffering from PTSD with experts to enable their treatment using cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), play therapy, psychological first aid, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) or medications.

Road to recovery

White River Academy is one of the leading therapeutic boarding schools that helps troubled teenage boys aged between 12 and 17 overcome their mental health issues and lead a healthy life. With state-of-the-art infrastructure and an all-inclusive approach followed by the therapists, the facility ensures complete recovery of those dealing with any form of mental illness.

If your teenage boy is dealing with substance abuse or any form of mental illness, or someone you know is, and is looking for assistance, White River Academy can help. Call our 24/7 helpline number or chat online with one of our experts who can connect you with some of the best boarding schools for troubled teens in Utah and other states.

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