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Acute Stress Disorder

Acute stress disorder(ASD) (also known as acute stress reaction, mental shock or simply shock) is a psychological condition that develops in response to a traumatic or distressing event. ASD is considered to be a variation of PTSD.¹

What causes it?

ASD is the result of an extremely traumatic event in which an individual experiences or witnesses something deeply unexpected, disturbing and stressful. This typically involves at least the threat of serious injury or death to themselves or someone around them.

ASD is a relatively new diagnoses and research on its diagnostics is in early stages. Preliminary research has found though that those who have experienced other traumatic events, had PTSD previously and/or had prior psychological problems are all more likely to develop ASD in response to a new stressor.

Shock can be a major obstacle to quick recovery from injury on the battlefield.

What are the signs?

The symptoms of ASD vary dramatically on a case by case basis but almost always include an initial state of 'daze'. This usually means narrowed attention, disorientation and an inability to process stimuli correctly. Less commonly, those who develop ASD have partial amnesia during the episode.

This initial phase  is usually followed by a drastic withdrawal from their environment and a mild to severe dissociative state. Others may experience agitation, serious anxiety, confusion, detachment or depression.

Unlike PTSD, these symptoms appear almost immediately after a traumatic event and usually disappear within hours or days. During this time, the sufferer must have symptoms of anxiety and significant impairment in at least one essential area of functioning.

How is ASD treated?

For many, ASD resolves itself but this is not always the case. Gone untreated, ASD can develop into more serious disorders such as PTSD. Medication is not a typical route for treatment, but has been used in some cases for very short durations to treat ASD. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a more popular treatment option and seeks to use cognitive restructuring, imaginal exposure and vivo exposure to prevent PTSD. Cognitive-behavioral interventions have yielded the most consistently positive results in terms of preventing further post traumatic disorders.


1. Laura E. Gibson (2009). Acute Stress Disorder. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 4.12.2013].

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