Anger and Addictions as a Result of Stress
Overwhelmingly, studies have shown that childhood trauma causes people to self medicate with drugs or alcohol to reduce anxiety and improve mood. For others, peer pressure or social anxiety may trigger a person to use a substance to be more relaxed and socially flexible. Substance abuse may begin as an attempt to calm the nerves and escape from a feeling of painful emotional feelings. For those who periodically abuse alcohol or drugs, they may be self medicating their anxiety when they are under the stress of painful events, grief, and loss of a loved one or career. Although many people that abuse drugs and alcohol may become psychologically dependent on the substance, only a small number of people with become truly physically dependent.
Why do People Become Physically Addicted?
Although there is strong evidence that implies a genetic predisposition, physical addiction is the result of the body protecting itself from the toxic effects of the substance. The body changes itself so the liver, brain and other body organs do not die from the huge amount of noxious chemicals, sugar, alcohol or drugs in the system. When the substance is stopped, the body responds with powerful cravings and emotional turmoil that reminds the person to use the substance again.
The Brain Stops Producing "Feel Good" Chemicals in the Addicted
In addition, the brain is a very efficient organ, and will stop making certain enzymes and neurotransmitters if the person is using a certain substance. Opiates, cocaine and junk food are good examples of this process. The receptors on the brain, known as the pleasure center, create the "reward" neurotransmitter, known as dopamine. This chemical makes the person feel good, safe and excited about being alive. For instance, the great feeling of winning a race, a 100 percent on a school paper or the winning lottery number is stimulated by the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. When addicted to a substance that provides dopamine, the body stops making it to reduce the risk of overproduction. The addict is now dopamine deficient, and if the substance is stopped abruptly, the person will experience profound depression with extreme stress and cravings. This phenomenon is why people have so much difficulty quitting an addiction, the person is in emotional agony from lack of brain chemicals that are no longer produced in sufficient quantities to counteract depression. Typically, it may take several weeks to months until the brain restores the dopamine receptor sites and produces a "feel good" effect in an addicted person.
When the Substance is Stopped, People Experience Anger and Withdrawal Symptoms due to Decreased "feel good" Brain Chemicals
Signs and Symptoms of Physical & Emotional Dependence of Addiction
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
Emotional Withdrawal from Substance
Uses a caffeinated beverage every 2-4 hours
Tiredness, irritability and complaint of being stressed, painful and persistent boring headache
Increased tolerance and smokes more to stop the effects of withdrawal
irritability, anger and rage. Emotional agony
Drinks more to maintain desired feeling and may hide use from family and friends
May be mild from tremors or difficulty concentrating to serious delusions and tremens.
Opiates (Pain Killers)
Builds a tolerance and requires more to produce the desired effect. Visits several doctors to acquire more.
Crying spells, anger and agitation. May feel "agony" or "impending doom."
Uses more over a period of time, spends more money on drug despite expense. May lose job or stop attending school
Severe depression, crying, may describe powerful cravings that "call to them." Very hard to stop using despite the problems with work or family life.
Food or beverage of choice is eaten or drank at least daily. The food provides comfort, calming and treats depression. Continued use despite weight gain or health consequences.
Anger, irritability and depression. May experience anxiety and powerful cravings for food or beverage. May hide food and feel ashamed.
The Cycle of Addiction and Stress
As the addicted person uses more of the substance to manage stress, they may suffer both physical, emotional and environmental consequences that increases stress. Several attempts to stop using increases stress on the body and may create mental anguish. Anger and rage often result from the stress created by the withdrawal symptoms or the amount of the drug may overwhelm the body. A vicious cycle of stress and addiction ensues.
Pituitary Gland, Adrenal Glands & Heart
References and Sources
The Reactions of Stress and Anger
When the person is under stress, their body reacts to the situation as a " life-threatening" event, and the brain will signal the pituitary gland to release hormones to the adrenal glands located on the top of the kidneys. Often, the addicted brain will respond to the unavailability of the substance as important as food or water for survival. That is why the "drug" becomes more important than anything else in the addicted person's life.
The Adrenalin Rush
The adrenal glands produce adrenaline, the flight or fight hormone, and the surge of anger or rage begins to coarse through the bloodstream. As the surge of adrenaline continues, the body is overwhelmed with a rush of a powerful hormone in response to fear or frustrations. Most people describe this sensation as a "rush of anger in the chest."
The Heart Beats Harder and Faster
Adrenaline targets the receptor sites on the heart and prepares the body with more oxygen for protecting the body from danger. The increased heart rate is indicative of the powerful hormone adrenaline.
How can People Deal with Stress in a Positive Way?
People who have addictions should acquire professional assistance from the mental health community. Learning how to cope in a positive way that does not include substance abuse is an important step to healing. Withdrawal symptoms may have serious health considerations and should be medically supervised in certain cases. The instant gratification of food, alcohol and drugs to control stress and treat depression is difficult to overcome with healthier, but slower, methods.
Simple Things to do to Reduce Dependence on Substances
- Educate yourself on what can be the cause of your stress and depression
- Find a therapist that you trust and who specializes in addictions
- Join a support group that makes you feel welcomed and safe
- Try meditation or deep breathing techniques designed to decrease stress
- Try alternate and healthier ways to look at the stressor and keep a healthy perspective of what you can control, and what is beyond your control