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            What causes your worst stress? What does it do to you? How do you cope with your stresses?

            “Stress,” according to the National Institutes of Health, “is a well-known risk factor in the development of addiction and in addiction relapse vulnerability.”

            You may say addiction is a matter of choice. You may say you wouldn’t use substances to cope with your life. But everyone is different, and the brain is an interesting organ we have yet to thoroughly understand.

            Jane wouldn’t use alcohol or drugs to cope with the crises that seemed to have come at her one after another. She credits her mother’s shared knowledge and wisdom as Jane was growing up. She knows everyone didn’t have a mother like hers. She wonders if the latchkey kids grew up without an adult to teach them life skills they would need when they reached adulthood. When they became parents, did they know how to parent, how to teach their children the right ways to grow?

            A series of studies have pointed to specific stressors and variables from one person to another that predict substance abuse, advises NIH. Stress involves perception, appraising the situation and responding to threats that raise the “fight or flight” response. Stress affects motivation and behavior, controlling of distress and impulses.

            “Chronic stress, Drug Use and Vulnerability to Addiction,” an article at the U.S. Library of Medicine, categorizes stressors:

            Emotional stressors: These include things like interpersonal conflict, loss of a relationship, death of a close family member or the loss of a child, among other things.

            Physiological stressors: These are things like hunger or being denied food, sleep deprivation or insomnia, extreme hypo or hyperthermia, or drug withdrawal situations.

            Pharmacological stressors: regular and binge use of psychoactive drugs.

            Psychological stressors: drug use and abuse viewed as a coping strategy to deal with stress, to reduce tension, to self-medicate and to decrease withdrawal-related stress, the article says.

            Short-term stress can cause physical reactions. Long-term can result in serious health issues. Some drugs can affect the brain just as stress does.

            Nora D. Volkow, M.D., director of NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) said, “We must develop healthy ways to manage stress and avoid turning to drugs or other substances to escape stressful realities.” Volkow has spent considerable time making presentations and facilitating discussions among youth across the nation, inducing them to think about and participate in those discussions.

            Stress is the way our bodies respond to difficulties. The brain and heart work harder, you breathe faster, your muscles tense up because your brain sense threats and is preparing you to respond to the threats: will you fight or run? Too much stress causes you to lose focus. You may have headaches, stomachaches, become depressed or frequently get sick.

            To manage stress, plan ahead. If you are overwhelmed by the day’s to-do list, prioritize. Be realistic about what you can accomplish today and remember tomorrow is another day. Prepare for the things you are worried about. When you have done what you can, move on to the next thing. A few deep breaths – in your nose and out your mouth – will help. Relax you muscles. You may not realize how tense you are until you begin to relax. Exercise releases dopamine and endorphins, those feel-good chemicals that are naturally occurring in the brain. Eat healthy, things like fruits, vegetables and lean protein. Avoid alcohol and drugs because they cloud thinking, cause anxiety, and can just make everything worse.

            Talk to someone you trust when you feel stressed. Just hearing your worries aloud may help. If there is no one you feel you can talk to, don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional who can help you get through your situation and come out on the other side stronger and wiser. You can do this!

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