Stressful events can profoundly influence drug, alcohol, and tobacco use initiation, continuation, as well as relapse.
Stress - What is it?
Stress is a normal reaction to 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.
What is stressful for one person may or may not be stressful for another. Each of us responds to stress in a different way. How a person copes with stress – by reaching for a beer or cigarette or by heading to the gym – also plays an important role in the impact that stress will have on our bodies.
By using family and friends, some people are able to cope effectively with the emotional and physical demands brought on by stressful and traumatic experiences. However, people who experience long periods of stress that disrupt their daily lives may need help by a trained and experienced mental health professional.
The Body's Response to Stress
The stress response involves the central nervous system, the adrenal system, the immune system, and the cardiovascular system.
Stress releases a brain chemical norepinephrine, which is involved with memory. This may be why people remember stressful events more clearly than they do non-stressful situations.
Stress and Drug Abuse
Stressful events may influence the use of alcohol or other drugs. Stress is a major contributor to the use of alcohol or other drugs, as well as to relapse or a return to drug use after periods of abstinence.
Stress is one of the major factors known to cause relapse to smoking, even after prolonged periods of abstinence.
Children exposed to severe stress may be more vulnerable to drug use. There is a strong link between psychosocial stressors early in life (such as parental loss or child abuse) and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, impulsive behavior, and substance abuse in adulthood.
Stress, Drugs, and Vulnerable Populations
Stressful experiences increase the vulnerability of an individual to relapse to drugs even after prolonged abstinence.
Individuals who are drug free must stay drug free by avoiding environmental triggers, recognizing their psychosocial and emotional triggers, and developing healthy behaviors to handle life's stresses.
PTSD and Substance Abuse
There is a very strong link between PTSD and substance abuse. In most cases, substance use begins after the exposure to trauma.
Getting help early for children and adolescents who have suffered trauma from violence or disaster is very important. Children, who are exposed to a traumatic event and develop PTSD, have a greater risk of developing later drug and/or alcohol use.
Thirty to 60 percent of people with substance use disorders, also have PTSD.
If you think you may have a substance abuse problem or that you need to learn better ways to cope with the stress in your life, here are some places to get help:
MENTAL HEALTH SELF-REFERRAL – for urgent mental health self-referral, TRICARE members may call 1(800) 242-6788.
PREVENTION EDUCATION SERVICES - Classes in Prevention Education include Suicide Prevention, Stress Management, Substance Abuse Prevention, Anger Management, Communication Skills, Sexual Assault Prevention, Child Abuse Prevention, Domestic Violence, Positive Parental Discipline and Pre-Deployment & Reunion Briefs. For information call 830-4950.
STRESS MANAGEMENT - The Health Promotions Program offers counseling for stress reduction and coping skills development by appointment only. To register call 830-2814.