Stress, Substance Abuse & Addiction
Exposure to stress is one of the most common human experiences.
It’s also one of the most powerful triggers for relapse to substance abuse in addicted individuals, even after long periods of abstinence.
What is It?
Stress is a natural part of life. It’s hard to define because it means different things to different people. It’s a reaction to physical, mental or emotional conditions, as well as changes and demands in our lives.
There are three types according to the American Psychological Association:
Acute is the most common type. It comes from current or recent demands and pressures, or the anticipation of demands and pressures. The most common symptoms are emotional distress, muscular problems, stomach problems, elevation in blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, and sweaty palms. Typically, symptoms are short term. Acute can be found in anyone’s life and it is highly treatable and manageable.
Episodic is acute stress that is suffered more frequently. It generally results from having a disordered life full of chaos and crisis. People suffering with episodic arealways in a rush, take on too much, and can’t organize all of the self-imposed demands and pressures. People with this type are often short-tempered, irritable, anxious, and tense. Treatment for episodic can work, but sufferers are often resistant to change.
Chronic is stress that grinds away and wears people down day after day, year after year. It destroys bodies, minds and lives. Chronic can come from poverty, dysfunctional families, unhappy marriages, or problem jobs and careers. Chronic stems from situations in which someone feels trapped, with no hope of a resolution.
High-pressure situations are a normal part of life for people of all ages. It is caused by our body’s instinct to protect itself from emotional or physical pressure or, in extreme situations, from danger.
Stressors differ for each of us. What is stressful for one person may or may not be stressful for another; each of us responds in an entirely different way. How a person copes, by reaching for a beer or cigarette or by heading to the gym – also plays an important role in the impact that it will have on our bodies.
Individuals who experience prolonged reactions that disrupt their daily functioning may benefit from consulting with a trained and experienced mental health professional.
The Body’s Response
Stress generates adaptive responses. It releases the neurotransmitter norephinephrine, which is involved with memory. This may be why people remember stressful events more clearly than they do non-stressful situations.
Stress also increases the production of a hormone in the body known as Corticotrophin Releasing Factor (CRF).
CRF is found throughout the brain and initiates our biological response to high-pressure situations. During all negative experiences, certain regions of the brain show increased levels of CRF.
Risk Factor For Substance Abuse
Unexpected or blind-sided events can influence the use of alcohol or other drugs. It is a major contributor to the initiation and continuation of addiction to alcohol or other drugs, as well as to relapse or a return to substance abuse after periods of abstinence.
Exposure to severe stress environments in childhood may increase the likelihood of substance abuse. Psychosocial pressures early in life, such as parental loss, child abuse, have been associated with increased risk for depression, anxiety, impulsive behavior, and substance abuse in adulthood.
What Is PTSD?
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which severe physical harm occurred or was threatened.
PTSD can result from many kinds of tragic incidents in which the patient was a witness, victim, or survivor,including violent or personal attacks, natural or human-caused disasters, or accidents.
Symptoms Of PTSD Can Include:
- Re-experience of the trauma
- Emotional numbness
- Avoidance of people, places, and thoughts connected to the event
- And arousal, which may include trouble sleeping, exaggerated startle response, and hyper vigilance.
PTSD Is A Risk Factor For Substance Abuse
Of individuals with substance use disorders, 30 to 60 percent meet the criteria for underlying PTSD.
In most cases, substance use begins after the exposure to trauma and the development of PTSD, meaning that PTSD a risk factor for substance abuse. More severe forms of PTSD increase the risk of substance abuse.
Children who witness or are exposed to a traumatic event and are clinically diagnosed with PTSD have a greater likelihood for developing later drug and alcohol abuse disorders. Early intervention to help ensure these children do not develop substance abuse patterns is critical.
People who are experiencing the symptoms of PTSD should see their physician or health care provider. Health care professionals should be reminded that PTSD frequently co-occurs with depression, anxiety disorders, and alcohol or other substance abuse.
Keep Your Headaches In Check
Headaches are more likely to occur when you’re under pressure. In fact,stress is the most common headache trigger. But you don’t need to give it the upper hand. Take simple steps to manage your life and help keep your headaches in check.
The Daily Grind
Major life events — the birth of a baby, the death of a loved one, a career change, a divorce — is undeniable. But it’s not necessarily these things that trigger headaches.
The body often draws on unknown reserves of strength to deal with a crisis. Instead, it’s the everyday irritants, searching for lost papers, sitting in traffic, tolerating petty annoyances at work — that may erode your ability to cope. For some people, this triggers headaches.
Stress hormones can alter the level of certain chemicals in the brain, which may contribute to headaches as well. If you tense your muscles, grind your teeth or stiffen your shoulders, you may only make your headaches worse.
Stop The Cycle
- Simplify your life. Rather than looking for ways to squeeze more activities or chores into the day, leave some things out. Ask yourself what really needs to be done, what can wait and what can be dropped entirely. It’s OK to say no occasionally.
- Manage your time wisely. Update your to-do list every day — both at work and at home. Delegate what you can, and break large projects into manageable chunks. Tackle the rest one task at a time.
- Be prepared. Organize your day ahead of time. Anticipate challenges. Try to keep your plan flexible, in case a headache strikes and you need to change course.
- Let go. Don’t worry about things you can’t control.
- Adjust your attitude. If you find yourself thinking, “This can’t be done,” snap back to attention. Think instead, “This will be tough. But I can make it work.” Putting a positive spin on negative thoughts can help you work through stressful situations.
- Relax. Set aside time for yourself every day, even if it’s only a few minutes. When you feel your muscles begin to tense, breathe deeply. Inhale to the count of six, pause for a second and then slowly exhale.
- Take a break. If you feel overwhelmed, take some time to clear your mind. A few slow stretches or a brisk walk may renew your energy for the task at hand. Or take a mental vacation. Imagine yourself in a calm, relaxing place.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise is a proven way to prevent — and sometimes treat — headaches. Exercise also provides a break from the demands of daily life. Be careful to warm up slowly. Sudden, intense exercise can cause headaches.
- Eat smart. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can give you more energy — plus the fuel you need to keep stress under control. Nothing is a substitute for good health and nutrition.
- Laugh. Humor is a great way to relieve tension. Laughter releases endorphins; natural substances that help you feel better and maintain a positive attitude.
- Change the pace. Occasionally break away from your routine and try something new. A vacation or weekend getaway may help you develop a new outlook.
Most headaches are nothing to worry about. But if headaches disrupt your daily activities, work or personal life, ask your doctor for advice or help.
- Relying on one’s support network of friends and family, or exercise or any other healthy behavior can reduce the desire to use alcohol or drugs.
- Avoiding environmental triggers, recognizing psychosocial and emotional triggers, and developing healthy behaviors are important tools in drug and alcohol use reduction and prevention.
- Learning techniques that foster coping skills, problem-solving skills, and social support can help individuals reduce or eliminate their drug and alcohol use.
Intense moments are a fact of life, but you can take steps to manage the impact these events have on you.
You can learn to identify what has a negative effect on you, how to take control of these circumstances, and how to take care of yourself physically and emotionally when you face events you can’t control. The payoff of managing your moments of each day is peace of mind and a longer, healthier life.