The Stress Response and Addiction

The Stress Response and Addiction

Stress is a natural response to outside situations or change, and can be the result of a single event or an ongoing issue.  Stress can be positive, which is called eustress, and include such things as getting married or buying a home.  Stress can also be negative, which is called distress, and include death of a loved one or divorce.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are three types of stress.  There is routine stress from everyday events, stress from a sudden negative change, or stress from a traumatic event.

When an individual feels stress, the body reacts by engaging our fight-or-flight response, resulting in increases in heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and body temperature.  This response to stress was designed to protect us from threats; however, for those individuals who experience chronic stress, this stress response becomes the norm.  There are negative effects on the body with chronic stress including difficulty sleeping, weight changes, headaches, lowered immune system function, high blood pressure, and depression and anxiety disorders.

Everyone handles stress differently but if stress is chronic, some individuals may resort to maladaptive means to manage their stress.  One such measure is abusing drugs or alcohol.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that for those exposed to chronic stress, there is a risk of drug abuse and the onset of addiction.

Drugs affect the chemicals in our brains and some drugs can slow down the fight-or-flight response, which reduces stress and anxiety; however, it makes the drug a potential target for abuse.  If an individual experiences high levels of stress, they may use drugs to manage the symptoms.  As a result, those who have difficulty managing stress, poor coping skills, and an inability to control impulses may have a higher risk of developing drug abuse.

Stress increases levels of adrenaline and norepinephrine in the body, which can increase energy, help someone stay awake longer, and decrease appetite.  Some drugs like cocaine or methamphetamines have similar effects, which might make these drugs more desirable for the stressed individual.

The brain may be involved in why some individuals are prone to drug abuse, addiction, and high levels of stress.  The stress hormone, cortisol, may be the culprit.  Cortisol damages healthy brain structure, neural connections, and function.  There are parts of the brain related to memory and learning, which are the same parts affected by drug abuse and addiction.  Exposure to stress can damage these parts of the brain making a person vulnerable to drug abuse and addiction.

Stress may trigger drug use and regular drug use may create higher levels of stress.  This is not a good mix, as together they increase negative physical and emotional concerns and increase an individual’s vulnerability to addiction.

If you have a problem with alcohol or drugs, Hired Power can help.  We can help you recover from your addiction and help you find productive ways to manage stress.  Call us today: (800) 910-9299.