You don’t have to walk through life allowing a stress disorder to define who you are. Professional treatment can offer the hope of starting a new, healthy life. Being diagnosed with a stress disorder can seem daunting, and if you permit it, the diagnosis can totally take over. This can have some seriously detrimental impacts on your life and the lives of those you love — and in some instances, it can lead to addiction.
It isn’t uncommon for someone with a stress disorder to turn to drugs or alcohol as a way of coping with their symptoms. Unfortunately, such a lifestyle choice can lead you in a circular path to nowhere. On one hand, you might regularly reach for a drink when looking to forget about the troubles that are worrying you. On the other, your addiction then serves only to cause more problems, thereby adding to the stress you were already dealing with.
Usually, pressure from family and friends will start piling on once an addiction is in progress, especially if the condition goes unrecognized by them. This is quite common where alcoholism is concerned. In today’s society, many drink daily and justify this behavior because everyone else is doing it, and also because they claim that their lives aren’t negatively affected. The functioning alcoholic can progress functionally in life for many years without a hiccup, hence the name.
Another set of people facing a tough path in life are those who are adult children of alcohol and drug abusers. Often, these children grow up to be adults with stress disorders that began during their childhood years. Genetically, these people are already more likely to fall prey to addiction than someone without addicted parents. When you combine that likelihood with a nearly lifelong stress disorder, the outlook can seem grim. Most of these people grew up never learning how to deal with stress in a healthy way. It’s important to know that even those who are predisposed to addiction and stress disorders can have happy, healthy lives that are free of substance abuse.
What Is Addiction?
Addiction isn’t selective. It doesn’t discriminate. Just as there are high-functioning alcoholics, there are high-functioning drug users. It can be hard to push the image of the homeless alcoholic on the street corner out of our minds. For years, this concept of the stereotypical addict has been branded as an unofficial image of substance abuse. You don’t have to be out of work to be an addict. You seem to be quite successful in life and still have an addiction. The drug of choice doesn’t matter either. Be it marijuana or crack cocaine, beer or bourbon, you can still be an addict.
You don’t have to drink in the morning or even on a daily basis to be an addict. Symptoms of addiction may not always be alarming or obvious, but if suspicion is present, then it’s worth looking into. If someone you care about feels dependent on drugs or alcohol, or is using substance abuse as an escape from life’s troubles, it is possible that an addiction is present.
What Is a Stress Disorder?
Stress disorders are common, and there is more to these disorders than unresolved feelings over a past trauma. Many people equate the terminology with post-traumatic stress disorder, but this is only one kind. Many struggle with how to manage stress in their daily lives. While it isn’t uncommon to experience this, those with stress disorders are in their own category.
The symptoms they have are more extreme than someone’s average anxiety over a given situation or the daily worries of a stressful job.
Commonplace stress might affect you in various ways. You may have memory lapses, emotional distress, and even physical symptoms like headache and chest pain, but you may also be able to manage those symptoms and overcome them. When you have a stress disorder, it is quite difficult to deal with the symptoms on your own without treatment.
Types of Stress Disorders
Acute Stress Disorder Acute stress is the most common type in this category, and it is actually part of what makes life worth living. This kind of stress lies on the fine line between the motivation we get from having responsibilities and obligations, and the dread we feel from those same things. It’s the thrill that builds inside of us when we’re about to jump out of a plane with nothing but a parachute to save us. Yes, acute stress is a complex thing, but without it, adventure wouldn’t likely exist. Still, everyone has their limits and when the breaking point is surpassed, acute stress disorder can take over and wreak havoc on your well-being. Acute stress is primarily composed of stressors that are currently affecting you because they came about just recently or they will soon.
Generally, acute stress disorder is diagnosed in people who have encountered a traumatic event that had the potential to seriously disrupt or end their life or the lives of others.
In addition, those affected with acute stress disorder most often respond to the encounter in a petrified and/or helpless manner. Per Psych Central, :
- Emotional detachment
- Living in a fog
- Inability to remember details of the trauma
People with acute stress disorder will continue to experience the traumatic event repeatedly. This often takes place by way of thoughts or dreams, but it can also occur in flashbacks, illusions, or from being exposed to something that reminds the person of the traumatic event. If you are unable to associate yourself with people, situations or things that may remind you of something unpleasant or scary that you once encountered, you might be experiencing symptoms of acute stress disorder. An inability to focus, trouble sleeping, and irritable moods often accompany other symptoms in people with acute stress disorder. Psych Central notes that in order for a diagnosis to be rendered, the person must feel the effects of a trauma within four weeks of it occurring.
Episodic Acute Stress
This is acute stress that is elevated. It is what happens when someone suffers from acute stress in a habitual and repetitive manner. They become consumed by the responsibilities that are piling up in their lives. They can’t remember a time that something wasn’t wrong; likewise, they can’t remember a time when they weren’t worried about things going wrong. According to the American Psychological Association, episodic acute stress reactions are commonly laced with impatience, irritability, anxiety and a short temper.
Often, others will perceive those suffering from episodic acute stress as being hostile, when really they are just prone to being in a rush, and they behave in a very concise and abrupt manner.
These patients are often worried about the future — from what is going to happen in an hour to what might happen 20 years from now — they always expect the worst. Symptoms are mainly caused by the patient being ramped up and overly stimulated concerning their fears and anxieties. Other symptoms include:
- Recurrent tension headaches and migraines
- Chest pains
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
The slight motivation that comes with acute stress are entirely absent where chronic stress is concerned. Some forms of chronic stress develop from childhood traumas. These can be quite difficult to treat because, as with all chronic stress, sufferers generally get used to experiencing them over time. They start to accept that this perpetual stress is just a normal part of life. Chronic stress wears away at its victim, whether it comes from a job they may hate, an unfulfilling marriage, or something else. Chronic stress disorder is known by some as complex post-traumatic stress disorder. It is suffocating and leaves its victims feeling trapped. It’s the kind of stress that people don’t see an escape from, and it takes its toll every day until they have succumbed to it. Symptoms generally start to present at this time; PsyWeb defines these symptoms as:
- Trouble controlling emotions, inclusive of ongoing sadness, depression, suicidal ideation, and expressive or hidden rage
- Wavering levels of consciousness, including an inability to recall traumas, reliving said traumas, or experiencing periods of dissociation when they feel they are not connected to their own body and/or thoughts
- Alterations in how they view themselves, inclusive of suddenly disliking themselves or identifying themselves as being guilty, ashamed, stigmatized or helpless.
- Alterations in how they view the perpetrator; giving all control to the perpetrator or developing an obsession with their association to the perpetrator, even if it is on the basis of vengeance
- Changes in their connections with other people; isolating themselves, finding it hard to trust others, or looking for others to save them from their pain
- Alterations or sudden absences in previously held beliefs and integrity
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD, is likely the most widely known form of stress disorders. PTSD: National Center for PTSD reports that seven to eight percent of Americans will have PTSD in their lifetime. A recent inflation in the number of veterans facing PTSD since the events of 9/11 have seemingly given people the impression that it is a disorder linked to soldiers or that you must have faced something as catastrophic as they have in order to be suffering from it. This is not true. PTSD occurs following a traumatic event. Usually, the sufferer has witnessed this event in person; however, sometimes it can occur following the delivery of bad news or just from hearing a witness’s account of a trauma.
Veterans often begin developing drug abuse problems while in recovery for injuries sustained in combat. Given large doses of narcotics like morphine, many become accustomed to the numbing effect these drugs have on the mind, and later begin to crave that
feeling again when trying to deal with their emotions and stressors. Of course, this is even more likely if the veteran had substance abuse problems to begin with. USA Today reported the results of a government study that pointed out the alarming number of prescriptions being handed out to PTSD suffers in comparison to their non-PTSD counterparts. The study detailed that veterans with PTSD were twice as likely to be given a prescription for narcotic painkillers as veterans suffering only from physical pain.
Traumas can be horrific events like rape, abuse, and near-death experiences, but they can also come in the form of the unexpected death of a loved one or witnessing a violent act. It can be hard to identify PTSD in some victims; while many people start exhibiting signs within three months of the trauma, some won’t for many years. This makes it difficult to connect behaviors and mental health problems when the trigger to said problems happened so long ago.
Symptoms of PTSD
Many people latch on to drugs and alcohol as a crutch to deal with the symptoms of PTSD, which the Mayo Clinic lists as:
- Intrusive memories: Repetitive and upsetting memories of the trauma; flashbacks, distressing nightmares about the trauma; and extreme physical or emotional upset toward anything that reminds you of the trauma
- Avoidance: Staying away from places, situations, or people that might remind you of the trauma and refraining from discussing or thinking about the trauma
- Negative alterations in one’s moods and/or thoughts: Bad feelings about others or oneself; inability to experience pleasant emotions; being emotionally complacent; a loss of interest to partake in things you once liked doing; inability to see anything positive in your future; memory lapses; and having a hard time sustaining close friendships or relations with others
- Alterations in emotional responses: Moodiness; explosive rage; aggressive actions; feeling as though danger could present itself at any time; feeling extreme amounts of shame or guilt; self-sabotage and destructive behavior; difficulty sleeping; trouble focusing; and being easily rattled or scared
In some cases, stress will make some people crave drugs even more. A recent Yale School of Medicine study reported that brain scans of women who are dependent on cocaine actually showed an increased desire for the drug in response to stress. If you’re addicted to drugs or alcohol and you also have a stress disorder, this represents a Dual Diagnosis. When attempting to diagnose a stress disorder, other possible disorders and substance abuse must be ruled out. This can make treatment difficult in some cases, because the symptoms of drug and alcohol addiction can often overlap those of stress disorders and make it seem as though the former are to blame. For this reason, many people suffering from stress-related disorders are misdiagnosed. Likewise, many who enter rehab facilities for substance abuse are not treated for underlying stress disorders. The result is a patient that isn’t fully healed at the end of treatment— the outcome of which is usually relapse.
Risks of Not Seeking Help
Drug and alcohol addictions only worsen over time as they force the user to become more and more dependent. Likewise, delaying treatment will show worsened effects on both the user and those around them. Every day that you are abusing drugs or alcohol is another day you’re risking your life and putting off starting a new, healthy life. Furthermore, when stress disorders aren’t treated, they’re allowed to grow and manifest into other areas of a person’s life. What once was a controllable amount of anxiety and stress can become insurmountable. The longer an untreated stress disorder is allowed to progress, the longer it may take to dig your way back to the root of it and access effective treatment. Thus, the earlier treatment is sought, the better, in both cases.
If you are, or someone you know is, showing signs of drug or alcohol abuse, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Treatment options vary, but a Dual Diagnosis program demands the need for a treatment approach that will care for both diagnoses in their totality. Remedying addiction and not treating the stress disorder, or vice versa, is not the road to a successful recovery. Here at Skywood Recovery, we can ease the stress of drug and alcohol detoxification with medication and around-the-clock supervision while you embark on the journey to becoming clean and capable again. Our caring staff specializes in accommodating those with Dual Diagnoses. After a detox period, if needed, you’ll be evaluated to confirm the diagnoses in question, and a treatment plan will be developed with discussions between you and the staff. You will have the opportunity to learn to express yourself in new ways and fix broken relationships with loved ones. Give us a call at 269-280-4673.