Ashley understands that addiction is not only an intergenerational disease, but one built of stress and trauma. Our greatest goal is to facilitate a lifelong recovery. Typically in our field, treatment is defined as 6 months of abstinence from drugs or alcohol. Much like cancer or diabetes, however, addiction is often a recurring disorder because it is chronic and that’s why so many of our practices revolve around facilitating lifelong behavioral health skills. Preventing reoccurrence of the disease means teaching graduates of our program that addiction is a no-fault disease, that the emotions they feel are valid and justifiable, but can be overcome, and teaching them the skills to handle the stress and trauma that so often come with addiction.
Stress and Addiction
In 2017, over 70,000 people died directly as a result from overdose. It can’t be emphasized enough just how important quality treatment is in overcoming addiction. Addiction doesn’t happen as a personal choice or as a failure. It happens in response to the environment, or serious life events, and the way our brains can so easily be manipulated by chemical reactions.
The vast majority of people who enter a treatment program began substance use before the age of 17, far before the brain is fully developed to overcome the strong emotions that come with stress and trauma in a healthy and productive way. As much as 10.2% of people suffering with Substance Use Disorders (SUDs) were under the age of 11. Clearly, addiction doesn’t discriminate. It targets men, women, children, teens, and adults of every ethnicity, socioeconomic and educational levels. We have to understand that addiction is a serious brain disease with real, physical characteristics. Studies have shown that as much as half of the patients seeking treatment for SUDs also show symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As research continues to come out about SUDs, it’s become clearer every day that addiction is in large part, a response to trauma, suffering, stress, and environmental factors. Addiction is not a crime or personal failure, as it’s so often depicted in the media. Managing PTSD and addiction, or other comorbid disorders, is challenging enough in a professional setting, but is immeasurably difficult to handle alone. In recovery, we teach you how to manage these difficult stress responses to help you lead a happier, healthier life post-recovery.
We encourage some positive stress, such as overcoming new physical challenges like exercise, and even meeting new people. Learning new skills, maintaining stronger schedules, and overcoming the negative thoughts that often stem from addiction are also stressful, but these actions are meaningful mental developments that are important to building a stronger, more resilient brain. Unhealthy stressors, such as toxic interpersonal relationships, codependency, depression, and trauma are some of the unhealthy stressors we want to help you overcome. Rather than offer you a safe haven from stress, it’s important that we challenge you to better yourself and make stress a meaningful climb for you, rather than a roadblock in your life.
Stress can be in an intergenerational factor in addiction. Studies have found that stress and addiction interplay with many different pathways and systems in the brain (Addiction: Childhood Trauma, Stress and the Biology of Addiction, Gabor Maté, MDa), and that “stress-related mechanisms” have a strong relationship with addiction and reoccurrence of the disease (How Does Stress Lead to Risk of Alcohol Relapse?, Rajita Sinha, Ph.D.). In the case of addiction, these brain functions are often not working the right way, and it takes a lot more effort to overcome stresses that would otherwise be manageable in a healthy, sober brain. Many of these effects are, unfortunately, transferred prenatally from mother to child, with stressed mothers giving birth to children who are naturally more susceptible to addiction.
Addiction is an extremely challenging disease that affects everyone from birth to parenthood. It’s closely tied to our ability to manage and handle stressors in our life, and as such it’s doubly important for us to be able to manage our stress, especially as emerging adults with still-developing brains. Recovery programs like Ashley’s focus on developing strong stress-management and healthy copings kills that help you lead a healthy meaningful life that will resonate for generations.