Acute Stress Disorder is an Anxiety Disorder that results from a) experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, in which the trauma involved actual or threatened death or serous injury and b) the individual’s response included intense fear, horror, or helplessness.

To receive the diagnosis after a trauma there must also be:

1) reexperiencing in the form of recurrent images, thoughts, flashbacks, nightmares, or disteress when encountering reminders, objects, or locations associated with the event

2) Avoidance of stimuli that are associated with the event

3) symptoms of anxiety (e.g., insomnia, irritability, hypervigilance, heightened startle response)

4) functional impairment or clinically significant distress

5) the disturbance has endured longer than 2 days but less than 4 weeks, and it symptoms presented no less than 4 weeks following the trauma

6) the disturbance is not the result of a substance or a general medical condition 

7) three or more of the following symptoms must also be present:

  • a sense of numbing, lack of emotional responding, or detachment
  • the reduction of environmental awareness
  • derealization
  • depersonalization
  • dissociative amnesia



Acute Stress Disorder is responsive to cognitive behavioral treatments including prolonged exposure and systematic desensitization.  It is helpful for individuals suffering to be assessed as early as possible.

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