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.
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.
"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 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.
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.
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:
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 (817) 259-2597.
Originally from the Saginaw, Eagle Mountain area, Austin Davis earned a Bachelor of Science in Pastoral Ministry from Lee University in Cleveland, TN and a Master of Arts in Counseling from The Church of God Theological Seminary. He then went on to become a Licensed Professional Counselor-Supervisor in the State of Texas.
Austin’s professional history includes both local church ministry and clinical counseling. At a young age, he began serving youth at the local church in various capacities which led to clinical training and education. Austin gained a vast knowledge of mental health disorders while working in state and public mental health hospitals. This is where he was exposed to almost every type of diagnosis and carries this experience into the daily treatment.
Austin’s longtime passion is Clearfork Academy, a christ-centered residential facility focused on mental health and substance abuse. He finds joy and fulfillment working with “difficult” clients that challenge his heart and clinical skill set. It is his hope and desire that each resident that passes through Clearfork Academy will be one step closer to their created design.
Austin’s greatest pleasures in life are being a husband to his wife, and a father to his growing children. He serves at his local church by playing guitar, speaking and helping with tech arts. Austin also enjoys being physically active, reading, woodworking, and music.