The Stress-Addiction-Relapse Connection and What To Do About It!
By: Paul Huljich
Author of the award-winning book ‘Stress Pandemic’
Founder of LifeREstyle Wellness Center
My story is a bit different from the ones you hear from most other addicts, but there are strongly connected parallels nonetheless. Many have suggested I was addicted to my business. Upon reflection, I suppose that may be true. Based in my native New Zealand at the time, I was the co-founder of a publicly traded, pioneering organic foods company once valued at over $100,000,000 dollars. My own personal ambitions and the need to please those close to me at any cost caused a lot of stress in my life. It eventually led to severe anxiety which proved to be a precursor to a full-blown mental breakdown, diagnosed as having bipolar illness. On that day, I lost all of my rights as a New Zealand citizen and was placed in control of the state.
The horror, misery and struggle brought on by my condition combined with losing my citizen rights was a very humbling experience for me to say the least. But on a more positive and productive note, it was the beginning of my new journey into the pathology of my condition brought on by stress and ultimately finding a cure. Unlike most addicts, I had the financial resources at the time of my breakdown to afford the best psychologists and psychiatrists in the world. I spent quite a bit of time as an in-patient at the Mayo Clinic followed by an extended stay at the Menninger Clinic. I was told by eleven of the best minds in the world on the subject that I had incurable type 1 bipolar disorder that would require medication for the rest of my life.
That was nearly nineteen-years ago. In the last seventeen years, I have been completely free of any psychotropic drugs including sleeping pills. I’ve had no need for a psychiatrist or therapist and have experienced no relapses whatsoever of bipolar disorder, depression or any other psychological imbalance. Today I enjoy the best years of wellbeing I’ve ever experienced despite the warnings from doctors that a serious relapse of bipolar disorder was imminent. Moreover, I have been able regularly to help others free themselves from the bindings of their disorders and achieve the same high-level of wellbeing.
It is with us from our first to last breath and everyone deals with it in their own unique way. Stress is our perception, appraisal and visceral response to some form of stimulus that threatens or challenges our wellbeing. These stressors trigger our fight/flight mechanism. Acute stress is often associated with novelty and unpredictability. It can be good in the way it gets you going and keeps you sharp. Conversely, there are no positive attributes associated with chronic stress. This type of stress is the result of continued constant exposure to situations that trigger the release of stress hormones. Left unchecked, chronic stress most often leads to both physical and mental breakdowns that can be very severe and even, to early death.
In my extensive research to find a cure for my bipolar disorder I found that stress is one of the leading causes of addiction and relapse: there is a direct connection between the two. Many people turn to drugs and alcohol as short-term relief from the unpleasant emotions caused by stress. What scientists have discovered is that stress affects many of the same neuro-chemicals as drugs and alcohol in the same areas of the brain, but in opposite ways – stress being an unpleasant negative stimulus while alcohol and addictive drugs have a pleasurable effect, at least initially.
These same researchers also found that stress alone can induce changes in addiction related brain cells similar to those caused by drugs. This raises the strong possibility of a "priming mechanism" that could make someone who has or is experiencing stress much more vulnerable to addiction and/or relapse after treatment.
NIDA also reported; “stress is one of the most powerful triggers for relapse in addicted individuals, even after long periods of abstinence.”
What I find perplexing is, with all of the scientific data available that has been validated by extensive research performed by leading scientists and researchers, why is addiction treatment only a 30-day program? I know from interactions with my colleagues that everyone responds to addiction treatment much like how they deal with stress, in their own unique way. People who walk into a treatment center are not equal. There are a lot of variables to their condition such as what they were abusing and for how long, their physical condition, environment and so on.
Come to find out the 30-day model was simply pulled out of thin air! 28 days was merely the length of time the developers of the Minnesota Model chose for their program back in the 50s. Insurance companies adopted the model as a measure for what they were willing to pay for treatment.
The challenges we face today with addiction are far greater in size and scope than the developers of the Minnesota Model could have ever anticipated. First of all, the Minnesota Model was designed primarily for alcoholics. Today we’re in the middle of a nationwide opiate/opioid epidemic that is showing no signs of easing up. Treatment for opiate/opioids can differ from alcohol treatment and often takes longer. For example, it takes weeks after detox before an addict’s cognition can achieve a state where treatment can begin to take hold, yet the treatment model is still 30 days. It’s just not enough time to be thorough and effective.
Look for a wellness facility that focuses on treating the whole body. One that blends the core values of addiction treatment such as 12 step meetings and therapy appointments with alternative medicine such as exercise, vitamin therapy, nutrition programs, meditation and yoga. There are many co-contributors to addiction that these therapies can relieve.
You also want to find a program that teaches the skills you’ll need to enjoy a full and complete recovery. One of the primary keys to recovery is creating a new life for yourself where it is easier to avoid the stressors that caused you to abuse drugs and/or alcohol in the first place. This requires skills and planning. A good wellness program designed for addicts after treatment will include programs that teach these skills and coping techniques that will initially put your feet on stable ground and prove invaluable in your recovery.
Most importantly, no matter where you are, no matter what your situation may be, no matter what challenges you are facing, never allow your flame of hope to be extinguished. Don’t ever give up. As long as you have the desire to live fully, alcohol, drug and stress free, you have all the power you need.
Paul Huljich Credentials
New Zealander Paul Huljich is considered one of America’s top Stress Experts. He is a stress management and lifeREstyle coach in the United States and a member of the American Institute of Stress. Paul’s latest book, ‘Stress Pandemic – 9 Natural Steps To Survive, Master Stress and Live Well’ was written for the growing number of people wishing to free themselves of mild, moderate, or severe stress. The book outlines a practical, effective and proven approach to achieving longevity and complete wellness. ‘Stress Pandemic’ has won two gold medals in the USA Best Book Awards for new non-fiction and self-help, became an Amazon bestseller and is a winner in the IndieFab Awards 2014 for health and self-help. Huljich is a frequent speaker at wellness conferences, universities, and events hosted by the National Alliance of Mental Illness. He also conducts motivational LifeREstyle seminars and workshops, including at the Omega Institute in New York, and in Hawaii. Huljich has opened the ‘LifeREstyle’ Wellness Recovery Retreat in Redondo Beach, California where they implement his nine-step overall wellness plan.