As a war veteran who has/had PTSD, I've noticed in myself a desire to maintain a level of anxiety and stress closer to what I was used to.

You've probably also heard/seen this type of behavior from other veterans who engage in High Risk Behavior after separation from service.

I've also known former incarcerated individuals and PhD graduates who do the same.

Is there an official term for this behavior? Further reading on the topic?


With "normal" risk taking related to "thrill seekers" what you could be talking about can be

  • Sensation Seeking (Zuckerman, 2007)

    Risky behavior can be an expression of a normal, genetically influenced personality trait, sensation seeking. Its expression in risky behaviors such as extreme and risky sports, vocations, substance abuse, unsafe sex, and crime, among others, is the topic of this fascinating and accessible book.


  • Disinhibition (Wikipedia), which is a lack of restraint manifested in disregard for social conventions, impulsivity, and poor risk assessment.

In the case of PTSD (or other mental health problems) causing the behaviour, it is Negative Urgency (Cyders & Smith, 2008), which is the tendency to engage in rash action in response to extreme negative affects (experiences of negative emotions, poor self-esteem and/or poor self-concept)

Cyders & Smith (2008) believe there is

striking circumstantial evidence that positive and negative urgency play an important role in adolescence. It seems likely that the normative adolescent experience involves a developmentally limited increase in levels of urgency, and also that there are important individual differences in the urgency traits during these years.

A study conducted by James, Strom & Leskela (2014) looked at the risk-taking behaviours and impulsivity among veterans with and without PTSD. They also compared the results with those who not only suffered PTSD, but also mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI).

[A] 42-item scale developed for the study permitted the assessment of a wide range of behaviors that are not captured in existing risk-taking measures but tend to be common and problematic among veterans (e.g., risky driving practices). Items were derived from a review of relevant literature. Participants reported how frequently they engaged in each of the behaviors using a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from 0 (never) to 4 (very often). Total scores range from 0 to 63. In addition to the total score, scores on four subscales (substance abuse, aggression, risky sexual practices, and thrill seeking) were also evaluated [...]

As expected, the co-occurring PTSD + mTBI group endorsed significantly more risk-taking behaviors and Negative Urgency than the control group and significantly more risky substance use, aggressive behavior, and Negative Urgency than the mTBI group. An identical pattern was found for the PTSD group compared to the control group and the mTBI group. Counter to expectations, the co-occurring PTSD + mTBI group did not endorse significantly more impulsivity and risk-taking behaviors than the PTSD group. That is, individuals with PTSD, regardless of TBI status (i.e., PTSD; PTSD + mTBI), tended to engage in more risky behaviors and more impulsive behaviors in the context of negative affective states than controls and those with mTBI only. The control group and mTBI group did not significantly differ from each other. Across all four groups, thrill-seeking behaviors were the most frequently reported risk-taking behaviors. There were no group differences in Sensation Seeking.

Not surprising, considering the nature of PTSD and its effects, the study also found other highly problematic behaviours

Notably, both theoretical and empirical works also link disinhibition, or the highly related construct of impulsivity, to suicide-related behaviors. In the present study, the PTSD groups (i.e., PTSD, PTSD + mTBI) were not only characterized by greater levels of the Negative Urgency facet of impulsivity and risk-taking behaviors than the mTBI and control groups but were also more likely than the control group to have thought about suicide and purposely driven a vehicle into another object. Thus, premorbid disinhibition may place people on a track toward later involvement in risky or other highly problematic behaviors that ultimately result in psychopathological and self-destructive outcomes.

(See also, Cyders & Smith (2008) about urgency and psychopathology)

Due to risks involved with Negative Urgency, therapy needs to be sought with regard to this too.

Therapy Available

When receiving psychological help for PTSD, it is best to highlight the fact that you have a desire to maintain a level of anxiety and stress closer to what you are now used to compared to the past. That way, the best form of help can be ascertained via your therapy provider.

Your therapist may be able to incorporate therapy for this using the same techniques they use for your PTSD, or they may tweak the sessions to incorporate other techniques such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT; see Linehan, 1993 or Lynch, et al., 2007)

One main focus of DBT is teaching individuals to respond adaptively to the experience of extreme emotional states, referred to in this treatment as Distress Tolerance Skills.


Cyders, M. A., & Smith, G. T. (2008). Emotion-based Dispositions to Rash Action: Positive and Negative Urgency. Psychological Bulletin, 134(6), 807–828. PMCID: PMC2705930 DOI: 10.1037/a0013341

James, L. M., Strom, T. Q., & Leskela, J. (2014). Risk-taking behaviors and impulsivity among veterans with and without PTSD and mild TBI. Military medicine, 179(4), 357-363. DOI: 10.7205/MILMED-D-13-00241

Linehan, M. (1987). Dialectical-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder: Theory and Method. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 51(3), 261—276
Free ResearchGate PDF: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Marsha_Linehan/publication/19580590_Dialectical_Behavior_Therapy_for_Borderline_Personality_Disorder_Theory_and_Method/links/553076c80cf20ea0a06f7fb8/Dialectical-Behavior-Therapy-for-Borderline-Personality-Disorder-Theory-and-Method.pdf

Lynch, T. R., Trost, W. T., Salsman, N., & Linehan, M. M. (2007). Dialectical behavior therapy for borderline personality disorder. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 3, 181-205. DOI: 10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.2.022305.095229
Free ResearchGate PDF: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Marsha_Linehan/publication/6124095_Dialectical_Behavior_Therapy_for_Borderline_Personality_Disorder/links/599ce0290f7e9b892bb003d9/Dialectical-Behavior-Therapy-for-Borderline-Personality-Disorder.pdf

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  • $\begingroup$ Excellent list. There seems to be a category missing though I think. Anxiety as a tool: "Do one thing every day that scares you." --Eleanor Roosevelt paraphrasing Alan Kay: "anxiety is productive if you can manage the risks of depression" as well as the behavior of procrastination and the anxiety that follows. $\endgroup$ – mlhaufe Aug 1 '18 at 1:33

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