Stress And Addiction
STRESS AND ADDICTION: THEIR RELATIONSHIP AND MANAGEMENT
Author: Barbara Reade, M.S.,L.C.
1. What is stress? The type of stress that will be discussed is defined as an experience that necessitates the physical and psychological adaptation of the person in a particular circumstance. This type of situation must demand a significant readjustment in ones life. And the chemical changes described in answer #2 must also be present. Sustained, chronic stress causes lasting changes in the physical and psychological makeup of the individual. It can ultimately lead to severe physical disease and/or addictions..
2. What role does it play in addiction? A number specialists in the addiction field see addiction as a response to stress or anxiety that has no avenue for solution. With this in mind, a major key to successfully dealing with and halting addiction, can be the understanding of stress and the use of appropriate tools to regulate it. With regulation addictive response can then be stopped before it is acted on, again. So the cycle of addiction can stop. According to this viewpoint, the more a person practices these stress reduction strategies, the better they will be at maintaining non-addictive behavior.
3. How does stress physically affect the body? When a person is subjected to stress, the body goes into a 3 stage reaction in it's effort to adapt. The first stage is called the "alarm" stage, the second, the "resistance" stage, and the third stage is the "exhausted" stage. When stress first occurs the body automatically secretes high levels of hormones. The biochemical change that follows is complex. The hypothalamus releases a chemical called "corticotrophin releasing factor(CRF). This chemical goes to the pituitary gland, causing the chemical ATCH to be released into the bloodstream. The ATCH activates cortisol, in the adrenal gland, that then causes the body to produce extra blood sugar, resulting in extra energy. CRF also triggers neurotransmitters that stimulate the release of epinephrine ( also known as adrenalin) and norepinephrine. The former, causes extra glucose to go to the muscles, and the latter, speeds up the heartbeat. A feedback loop is built into this system, going back to the pituitary gland, which then decides how much ATCH to continue to send out. When all of these chemical reactions have taken place and been completed, the body goes into "SHOCK". In the second stage of the situation the person appears to have adapted to increased stress. This stage is called resistance. In this stage, this condition may well maintain itself unless the stressful condition becomes chronic, or new stresses are added.. In this case the body then goes into stage three---exhaustion. Physical disease, caused by stress, occur when stress continues for a prolonged period, because the body's natural defenses system becomes overworked and weakened.
4. How does addiction become part of the stress cycle? Although the body can handle a certain amount of stress and adapt by becoming resistant to that stress level, there is a level at which no person can physically continue to function easily, after prolonged stress. For some people, when their adrenalin "rush" has become uncomfortably intense, their answer becomes drug addiction, to numb or subdue he adrenal effects. For some people the psychological feeling of ‘going too fast’ becomes the motivate for beginning the drug addictive cycle. The feeling of fear, which is accompanied by adrenal increase, can lead some people into addictive behavior, to quiet the discomfort they are feeling from intense fear. These are some of the common motivations, inspired by stress, that can fuel the addictive cycle. 5. Personality vs. event--Which is more important? Research debates whether the circumstance or the personality type contribute more to ones response to a stressful situation. The way inwhich one assesses an event does influence ones response. This assessment, it is believed by many, is caused both by the personality type of the individual, and his social conditioning, thinking, perception, personal life experience, and coping skills that are brought to that situation. In terms of the addictive response, that follows for some people, research is still working to determine if genetic-biological factors, personality-genetically based factors, and/or environmental conditions contribute most strongly to ones drive to use addictive processes to cope with stress. It is difficult to argue against using stress reduction techniques, to help addictive processes, whether the environment or the person’s biology has inspired this problem.
6. What coping skills can benefit people most in stressful situations? This answer is difficult to generalize because each person and each circumstance do have at least some, unique features. However, certain habits, incorporated consistently in ones daily living, can help a person's coping abilities significantly when times of high stress do occur.
Important Stress Reduction Habits include:
· Get at least 8 hours of sleep per night.
· Get regular daily exercise.
· Eat well balanced, healthy meals, in appropriate quantities, preferably eating smaller portions more frequently in the day, to help maintain even blood sugar.
· Take at least 30 minutes to yourself once a day. Relax, meditate, leave daily problems behind. Let this be a time when you can 'clear your thoughts' and allow your body to let go of unwanted stress signals (sore, tense muscles, headaches, body aches, etc.)
· Maintain a sense of humor. Make a special effort, if needed to see the funny, silly, truly amusing events that do happen around you daily.
· Prioritize your chores. Decide what is really important and what is really unnecessary.
· Allow yourself to 'simplify'. Let go of the extra work, or tasks, that stress you too much, and benefit you little.
· Find ways to give and receive care to and from others in your life. Make this a daily part of your living.
· Develop or nurture a strong, positive support group for yourself. You may want to join various support groups in your community if you do not have a support group at present.
· Recognize that even the most stressful feelings, will change, and you will feel better, given time, and healthy self care.
· When applying this to addictive problems, discover what your triggers are, in terms of stress, and then develop ways to avoid that type of stress, or problem solving strategies for issues that need immediate resolution, to reduce as much stress as possible in these situations.
· Prioritize your problems. Just take the most important one, at a time. Work through it as much as possible, then begin to approach the next issue.
EMDR therapy has been proven to be highly effective in reducing and eliminating these symptoms. If you are experiencing these symptoms contact a mental health professional in your area for help. These symptoms can be relieved successfully with appropriate treatment from a licensed mental health professional with this area of expertise. Medications may also be helpful. You need to consult your Primary Care Physician or a psychiatrist for advice concerning to medication appropriateness.
Barbara Reade LCPC
Learn more about Barbara and Advanced Recovery Therapy LLC.