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How Does the “Flight or Fight” Response Affect Recovery?

man looking stressed while in traffic

Most of us have experienced the “flight or fight” response at some point in our lives. It is an involuntary response to stress in the human body when someone becomes startled, threatened, or scared. Such stressors can also be a significant trigger for substance use disorders (SUD) and lead to relapse. Let’s take a look at the relationship between “fight or flight” responses and SUDs to help you understand how to manage these behaviors and lead a healthy recovery.

What Is the “Flight or Fight” Response?

The “flight or fight” response is an instinctive reaction in your body’s survival system. When you are scared, anxious, or in a stressful situation, the body sends “fight or flight” hormones to help get you through the situation. Therefore, when you see a threat in a trauma situation, your brain automatically releases adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are what help you think logically to respond to danger. However, when stress is overwhelming, these hormones can inhibit your ability to respond to triggers and disrupt normal thought processes.

Anxiety Is a Byproduct of “Fight and Flight” Response

“Fight or flight” is a natural reaction to danger. However, such a response often creates intense episodes of anxiety. Although anxiety can be a natural reaction to scary situations, it can also lead you to experience anxiety attacks, panic attacks, and social anxieties.  

Anxiety can affect how you think, feel, and behave. It can take over your life and leave you feeling confused and overwhelmed. Anxiety can also cause you to feel like you can’t cope with daily life anymore. All these tense feelings could cause you to seek substances to help you cope. 

The Dangers of the “Fight or Flight” Response

The main downside of the fight and flight response is the fact that it triggers intense stress. In this period of crisis or danger, the body produces stress-related hormones. It can also cause a decrease in GABA, the neurotransmitter that helps relax the body and mind. 

Subsequently,  because the body produces high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, it could leave you even more susceptible to prolonged anxiety. In some cases, such prolonged feelings could perpetuate symptoms of other mental health issues like PTSD. 

It Affects the Whole Family

Unfortunately, mental health issues like anxiety can be debilitating to the whole family – especially if SUD is a concern. It’s important to remember that dealing with a SUD requires shifting from your worries to focusing on the present. Living in constant fear or under the weight of anxiety will not help you. Being in such a state is detrimental to your recovery and family relationships. 

If you experience constant anxiety, you risk relapse or developing a drug and alcohol dependence to self-medicate your symptoms. However, drugs and alcohol can also bring about heightened anxiety levels and make your symptoms worse. Over time, you might find yourself caught in a cycle of frequently managing your anxiety with substances. 

When this happens, it can cause you to isolate yourself from family or become irritable with family members. 

Taming the Fight or Flight Response for Your Recovery

Chronic exposure to stressful situations can increase the risk of relapse. Anxiety can also cause overwhelming fear or a sense of helplessness that often leads to self-defeating behaviors. Ultimately, finding ways to manage your stress and cope with the stress-related triggers that lead to relapse is an essential part of staying sober. 

There are many different ways to manage stress and anxiety. Some of them, such as exercising and listening to music, are not always effective for everyone. Yet, some find comfort in practicing mindfulness and yoga to manage stress and anxiety. Additionally, participating in activities that bring you joy helps alleviate stress and negative emotions.  

Other stress-relieving activities include:

  • Spending time with friends and family
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Getting enough nutrients and water
  • Making time for your self-care
  • Participating in hobbies and activities
  • Practicing mindfulness meditation
  • Joining and attending recovery support groups

Seek Help From a Professional

Sometimes the fight or flight response can be a beneficial instinct. However, it can also become a chronic response that can lead to stress and anxiety. Too much cortisol circulating in the body can trigger too many uncomfortable emotions. Not only does this affect your brain and behavior, but it also impedes your ability to recover from substance use disorder. Therefore, If you can’t handle your stress and anxiety, you should talk with a mental health professional about treatment options.

Living under the weight of anxiety can hinder the quality of your teen’s life. However, they are not alone and help exists. At Clearfork Academy, we focus on the needs of teenage males and provide appropriate care to address their mental health and substance use disorders. With a range of behavioral therapies and activities, we will create a treatment plan that will speak directly to your teen’s needs. During these sessions, your teen will learn strategies and practices on how to process their stress and develop coping skills to manage them. The foundational elements learned with us will set your teen up for a lifetime of success in recovery. We also provide resources to aftercare should your teen need additional help getting back to their everyday life. With us, you will always have support and options to care. Don’t wait to get help. To find out more, contact us at Clearfork Academy today by calling (866) 650-5212.