Watching the Chilean miners come out of the mineshaft and greeted by their loved ones is a very intense experience. One can only imagine what it actually feels like to be in their shoes. The intensity, the emotion, and the stress – what does that do to a person’s mental state, nerves and body? How will the miners and their families be coached on to channel their emotions, thoughts and stress levels?
Stress and addiction often go hand in hand. Not only can stress lead a person to start heavily drinking or taking drugs, stress often triggers an addict to use drugs or alcohol. HBO’s documentary series Addiction notes this about stress and addiction:
“Animal studies have shown that the brain changes associated with stressful experiences are also associated with more sensitivity to the effects of drugs of abuse. For people who have addictions, stressful life experiences such as divorce, job loss and conflict are often associated with craving and relapse. In addition, people with addiction often have poor coping strategies and turn to drugs and alcohol to relieve stress.”
While the Chilean miners have gone through a very stressful time, because they are well in their adulthood, and have ample support to help their recovery, they are less likely to become drug addicts or alcoholics based solely on their recent experiences. Dr. Kathleen Brady says one type of situation that is more likely to cause addiction is early childhood trauma, including physical or sexual abuse. This trauma disrupts a person’s stress response and makes him/her more vulnerable to substance abuse disorders.
An article in the Huffington Post quotes Westley Clark, M.D., director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, say “Stress is not a vague term; it is generally concerned with profound events in a person’s life.”
Intense stress is what can cause the beginning of an addiction, but also what can fuel it. Studies with mice and cocaine use have shown that adrenaline contributed to their desire to want cocaine. Although this has not tested with humans, researchers say that humans would probably have a similar reaction as the mice. Therefore, when a person is stressed, hormones released from the stress can ignite cravings for drugs or alcohol.
Just like the disease of addiction itself, the impact of stress on addicts is hard to quantify and can manifest in a person’s life in many different ways for many difference reasons. The Yale School of Medicine has an entire consortium dedicated to understanding the functions of stress and addiction. While we may not exactly know its effects on our lives or how to control it, it is important to be aware of the possibilities when we are in stressful situations.