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    When Life Stress Turns to Substance Abuse

    When Life Stress Turns to Substance AbuseStress is a well-known risk factor for substance abuse and addiction relapse. Researchers continue to study stressors that can predict drug and alcohol abuse. Life stress, particularly acute stress from sudden or traumatic events, enhances drug seeking and self-medication in vulnerable people and addicts.

    Stress and Addiction

    According to Kathleen Brady, a psychiatry professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, stress and addiction are closely connected. Animal studies show that stress and addiction produce similar changes in the brain. The changes associated with stress produce more sensitivity to the effects of commonly abused drugs.

    Many life experiences are stressful including divorce, job loss and financial troubles. Managing stress involves taking charge of thoughts, emotions and schedules. Unfortunately, many people cope with stress in ways that compound their problems.

    For people with addictions, stressful life events often cause cravings and relapse. Moreover, recovering addicts often have poor coping strategies that use drugs or alcohol to relieve stress. Challenges are part of life and it is impossible to eliminate stress completely, but learning to cope is important for people with addictions.

    New Treatment Methods

    According to The Huffington Post, a 2013 Brown University study could introduce new treatment methods for recovering addicts. Animal studies have identified a region in the brain where neural steps to drug relapse occur. Blocking these steps could prevent stress-related drug use or relapse.

    Prior research established links between acute stress and substance abuse in vulnerable people, and between stress and relapse in recovering addicts. However, researchers did not know how stress triggers the neural steps leading to relapse. The Brown study provides more insights on the process.

    Potential New Medication

    The study showed that stress significantly impacts the plasticity of neural synapses in a particular region of the brain called the ventral tegmental area (VTA). Stress activates kappa opioid receptors (KORs) in this area. By blocking these receptors in animal studies, researchers prevented the animals from relapsing to drug use under stress.

    Blocking KORs could be crucial for protecting addicts from stress-induced drug relapses. The chemical used to block the receptors in animal studies may eventually be tested on humans. Researchers are beginning to understand the processes that link stress and addiction, and this could mean a breakthrough in addiction therapy.

    Medications are a crucial component of some drug addiction treatments. They can be helpful for detoxification and ongoing treatment. The Brown study builds on a decade of research on the link between stress and addiction. The recent findings could accelerate progress toward an effective medication for recovering addicts.

    Know Your Lines

    Stress of life pushes many to abuse substances. Pay attention to the thoughts that pass through your mind. Some that may be an indication that you are vulnerable to turning to a harmful source of peace are:

    • “I can’t handle this, I am so overwhelmed”
    • “If I just get away from this, I will finally feel free”
    • “I’m never going to feel at peace”

    Pay attention to where you are at in your thoughts when you are feeling a lot of life stress. If you begin to feel despair, anger, and an increased amount of entitlement, you will find yourself vulnerable to addictions of many different forms. It should be noted that you should be aware of the emotional conditions associated with depression and anxiety.

    If you find yourself crossing these emotional, mental lines, make a life change. Change your environment, get yourself support from
    loved ones, start something new. For you, the right step might be to enter an addiction recovery program with the right support to help you stay within your stress boundaries. Be proactive, don’t settle for misery, there is a way to manage your life stress better!”

    Author Bio: Hannah Whittenly is a freelance writer from Sacramento, California. A mother of two, Hannah enjoys empowering women with her writing, but enjoys writing in a variety of other niches. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, and needs the support of a healthy community, it is strongly recommended that you seek help from a professional institution like Ascend Recovery immediately.”

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