PTSD: Treatment–Part Two
For many PTSD survivors, the memories are terrifying.
Nightmares jolt you awake in the middle of the night. You sweat profusely, your heart races, your chest tightens.
Can you make the memories go away?
Believe it or not, the answer may be yes…sort of.
Recently, several promising studies have been done on the beta-blocker medication Propranolol. It has a calming effect and is frequently prescribed to people with severe anxiety, hypertension, and tremors. Some public speakers and musicians take it before a performance to slow down their heart rate and ease their fear.
As it turns out, it may also be an extremely valuable ally in the fight against PTSD.
An article in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, dated May 2008, is titled, “Effect of post-retrieval propranolol on psychophysiologic responding during subsequent script-driven traumatic imagery in post-traumatic stress disorder.”
The abstract reads as follows:
The β-adrenergic blocker propranolol given within hours of a psychologically traumatic event reduces physiologic responses during subsequent mental imagery of the event. Here we tested the effect of propranolol given after the retrieval of memories of past traumatic events. Subjects with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder described their traumatic event during a script preparation session and then received a one-day dose of propranolol (n = 9) or placebo (n = 10), randomized and double-blind. A week later, they engaged in script-driven mental imagery of their traumatic event while heart rate, skin conductance, and left corrugator electromyogram were measured. Physiologic responses were significantly smaller in the subjects who had received post-reactivation propranolol a week earlier. Propranolol given after reactivation of the memory of a past traumatic event reduces physiologic responding during subsequent mental imagery of the event in a similar manner to propranolol given shortly after the occurrence of a traumatic event.
To interpret it in layman’s terms: PTSD survivors were asked to recall their traumatic events. Then, they were given a one-day dose of Propranolol, whereas others were given a placebo. When asked to recount their triggering event a week later, the subjects who were given Propranolol showed significantly fewer stress indicators.
[In the interests of brevity, I have not cited other studies, but they are quite numerous. A quick search should reveal plenty of them.]
Final verdict: Propranolol won’t erase your traumatic memories. But, if the studies are accurate, it can make the memories more manageable and less terrifying. Ask a qualified doctor–if they deem it wise, you may try a Propranolol regimen and see if it works for you. Together with therapy and other means of recovery, it may prove extremely beneficial.