The Deadly Relationship Between Stress and Addiction
Everyone in the world is affected by stress to some extent. The human stress response is a natural reaction to potentially dangerous or damaging situations, whether it be an actual threat to a person’s life or a perceived danger of becoming embarrassed and losing social standing. Stress comes in many different forms and in many different degrees, and everyone has a different ability to cope with stress. They also have different coping mechanisms, some of which may be substance abuse.
The term stress is not a useful objective term to be used as a description of a scientific phenomenon that can be studied. It can neither be defined in objective terms nor can it be measured. It is impossible to objectively measure the amount of stress individuals experience in the same situation because the experience of stress is totally subjective. This results in much of the research involving stress relying on self-report measures of stress from research subjects, and self-report measures are notoriously unreliable.
Unfortunately, self-reporting is all we have to work with. According to the American Psychological Association, the mean stress rating for 2011 was 5.2, on a scale of 1-10, with more Americans reporting their stress levels increasing over time than decreasing.
The endocrinologist Hans Seyle is responsible for many of the common notions of the term stress. Seyle defined stress as a nonspecific response to demands for change. His definition and understanding of how the stress response works is still cited in many texts today despite information indicating that it is probably an insufficient account of what stress is and how it affects the body and mind.
Seyle found that animals exposed to prolonged stressors were more vulnerable to developing different types of diseases. Researchers following up on his ideas suggested that individuals exposed to prolonged periods of stress were also vulnerable to developing certain physical conditions like ulcers and psychological issues like depression.
A more modern-day definition of stress is a general physical and emotional response resulting from the interaction between people and their environments that are perceived to be exceeding or threatening to exceed their adaptive capacities and thus threatening to their wellbeing. There has been much discussion over whether stress is more of an external response that can be measured in chemical changes in the brain, skin reactions, and the arousal of the sympathetic nervous system, or if it’s a psychological interpretation or reaction to a stressor – or both.