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The ABC of PTSD in Teens: Signs & Available Treatment

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PTSD can be extra stressful to the teen brain going through major changes, leading to a decline in social life, school, relationships, drugs and even health problems. 

No one is safe from stressful experiences in life, not even teenagers. In fact, these experiences are more common than we think. What we don’t consider as much as we should, is that when these stressful experiences become heavier/worse, it can lead to PTSD.

Understanding the causes, signs, and outcomes of trauma in youth can help parents provide support and compassion to help prevent trauma from turning into PTSD.  

Is It The Same As Trauma?

It is very common to consider that trauma and PTSD are the same, but that can’t be further from the truth. 

When comparing trauma with PTSD,  what we need to consider here is the simple fact that trauma can lead to PTSD, but that’s not always the case. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is actually a mental health diagnosis with symptoms that typically last longer than 4 weeks. This is the result of an event that threatens life or safety. 

In times of trauma, the brain floods the body with cortisol sending the body into fight or flight mode. This can mess with the normal hormone process that teens are already going through causing physical and psychological symptoms. 

PTSD is not the same as trauma. Many people can experience trauma in their lives and not develop PTSD. Some experiences of trauma that may cause a teen to develop symptoms of PTSD include: 

  • Physical, emotional or sexual abuse
  • School shooting
  • Car accident 
  • Natural disaster
  • Living in a violent community
  • Neglect or ongoing dysfunction in the family 

Although teens are more susceptible to the onset of PTSD, a number of protective factors can buffer the stress load and keep them from developing PTSD. Some of these may include. 

  • Positive relationships with family
  • Safe environment and community
  • Educational support if needed
  • Access to proper healthcare
  • High self-esteem
  • Engagement (sports, being involved in a club or activity) 

Can Teenagers Suffer from PTSD? 

Of course, they can! 

Teens are in a process that consists of building their identity and perspective of the world and because of that, experiencing trauma can disrupt their sense of self, trust, and safety making it difficult to communicate and form meaningful connections in adulthood. 

Teens with unresolved trauma are also more likely to develop drug problems, get in trouble with the police, or drop out of school. 

Signs of PTSD in Teens 

The first step to help our teens is recognizing the signs of PTSD on time. Recognizing these signs can make the whole difference for them as early intervention prevents symptoms from worsening or worse yet, following them into young adulthood. 

Every parent should look after:

Physical Symptoms:

  • Headaches 
  • Nausea, vomiting or acid reflux 
  • Sweating
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Dizziness
  • Increased or lack of appetite 

Behavioral Symptoms:

  • Isolation
  • Aggression, anger or outbursts
  • Avoidance of places or people that remind them of trauma
  • Substance abuse, binge drinking or unprotected sex 
  • Self-harm 
  • Decreased academic performance 

Emotional Symptoms:

  • Anxiety (panic attacks, tension)
  • Depression (sadness, hopelessness, loss of interest in everyday activities) 
  • Mood swings 
  • Flashbacks or nightmares 
  • Lack of concentration or focus
  • Memory loss 
  • Apathy 

How is PTSD Treated in Teens? 

The road to recovery is hard but not impossible for anyone.

Teenagers have a lot of opportunities to recover thanks to the now trauma-focused approaches developed to especially treat these kinds of mental health issues.

Thanks to these advances in treatments, we have now a considerable amount of help available for teens suffering from PTSD. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) 

CBT helps teens become aware of their trauma and process the negative that comes with it. Therapists may help the teen recognize triggers, and re-wire negative thinking patterns that influence their mood and cause symptoms. 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) 

This has good results for patients with trauma symptoms. It uses bilateral stimulation to activate parts of the brain—making it easier to rewire thoughts and process traumatic memories.

Experiential Therapy 

Experiential therapies help trauma survivors reconnect with their senses and work through traumatic experiences, rather than just talking about them. These include art therapy, dance, roleplay, yoga and meditation. These may be extra helpful to teens who don’t always love talking about their inner worlds. 

Peer Support or Group Therapy

Connecting with a peer support program or enrolling in group therapy helps teenagers connect with others with similar experiences. This can decrease feelings of isolation and symptoms of social withdrawal. 


Medications such as SSRIs or sedatives are sometimes prescribed to manage symptoms of anxiety and depression. Prazosin can be used to treat nightmares or flashbacks. 

Healthy Coping Strategies

Parents can support their teens managing symptoms of trauma through teaching and modeling healthy coping skills. 

Strategies include: 

  • Mindfulness 
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Deep breathing
  • Self-soothing techniques (using a weighted blanket, playing with a pet, aromatherapy, massage)
  • Reaching out for social support 
  • Meditation
  • Hiking
  • Dance
  • Arts and crafts 
  • Listening to music
  • Journaling 
  • Playing a game
  • Taking a nap
  • Reading a book
  • Watching their favorite TV show or movie

Seeking Professional Help

PTSD is a complex mental health condition that the longer it gets dragged down, the more it will affect the teenager’s future. This is exactly why early diagnosis, early intervention, and proper treatment from specialized mental health professionals can make a great difference in your teen’s daily functioning (and future). 

At Clearfork Academy, you will find a team of compassionate and trained staff who understand the complex nature of diagnosing and treating symptoms of disruptive behavior disorders. Reach out to our qualified Admissions team to learn more. 


Karadag, M., Gokcen, C., & Sarp, A. S. (2020). EMDR therapy in children and adolescents who have post-traumatic stress disorder: a six-week follow-up study. International journal of psychiatry in clinical practice, 24(1), 77–82.

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