Is stress associated with addiction? Why yes, yes it is!

One of the main reasons people turn to drugs, alcohol, nicotine or other self-destructive behavior is…wait for it…Stress!

According to Shahram Heshmat Ph.D. in an article in Psychology Today, May, 2017, stressful life events combined with poor coping skills can impact the risk of addiction increasing impulsive behavior and self-medication.

Stress is anything referring to hardship or adversity. Things like poverty or grief cause a biological reaction raising blood pressure and triggering high levels of stress hormones such as cortisol.

In some cases stress can be seen as pleasurable, usually when it presents a challenge and is temporary. Sensation seekers chase stressful situations for the thrill (mountain climbers, roller coasters as examples). But intense, unpredictable and prolonged situations such as unemployment can generate a response of helplessness and depression. Chronic stress will even lead to physical ailments including influenza, and headaches.

Early childhood traumas can also affect us making people feel more vulnerable and creating high levels of stress later in life. These can even change our genetics, sometimes leaving people in a constant state of emergency.

Work related trauma can also create chronic stress. People perceive themselves to have no control over decisions as they face the daily demands of a job. This can cause anxiety and depression leading to physical conditions including ulcers and diabetes.

How a person perceives stress can make the difference. One may reassess their situation and conclude “it’s not a big deal.” Another person my chose to cope by smoking, drinking or other addictive behavior.

There is a strong link between stress and the motivation to self-medicate. Family dysfunction, childhood abuse and other examples can result in substance use and decreased self-control.

High stress levels can lead to a loss of control over urges and the inability to delay gratification. Stress can actually change the makeup of our prefrontal cortex making us even more susceptible to impulses like drug use, overeating and nicotine for example.

To sum it up, more stressful life events can create poor coping skills and may impact the risk of addiction… that includes nicotine.

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By Phil Berbig

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