The Stress-Vulnerability Model

Michelle Rosenker

November 14, 2019

In today’s world, addiction is a disease that is impacting people of all ages, races, sexual orientations, and economic classes. It is a non-discriminatory disease.

Addiction has become so common that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) recently reported that one in three Americans know someone who is addicted to opioids. While opioids like OxyContin, fentanyl, and heroin are being abused at higher rates than ever before, they are certainly not the only addictive substances being abused by Americans.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 15 million Americans are addicted to alcohol. Another 15 million are addicted to prescription drugs, 1.5 million are dependent on cocaine, and 1.6 million addicted to meth. There is no shortage of addictions in the United States, which begs the question: Why are so many people addicted to drugs and alcohol?

There are countless reasons why people end up addicted to mind-altering substances. Some people start using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate symptoms of a mental illness, while others develop a dependence as a result of habitual recreational use (like college kids who drink alcohol weekly).

Addiction also sometimes develops after a person has experienced a physical injury and is prescribed a prescription painkiller like oxycodone. As previously mentioned, there are an innumerable amount of reasons for addiction development. Many people, however, can trace the development of their addictions to their life stressors.

Stressors Commonly Linked to Substance Use Disorder

Stress is something that nobody on this planet can escape. Of course, there are ways to minimize the possibility of stress, but no one is immune to it. Plus, not everyone is going to get stressed out by the same things. One person might find a certain situation extremely stressful while another is not affected by it at all.

When it comes to those who struggle with the disease of addiction, there is almost always some form of stress that has contributed to the development of their addiction. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that people who are exposed to stress are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol at some point in their lives. Some of the most common stressors linked to substance abuse include the following:

  • Pressure to perform at work, home, or school
  • Poor time management
  • A mental illness that is going untreated
  • Experiencing a major life change (such as moving, having a baby, getting married, losing a loved one.)
  • Childhood trauma

These stressors are complex to deal with, even for those who have the strongest psychological and emotional health. However, it is extremely important for someone to focus on the connection between their stress and addiction and what makes them vulnerable to continuing on with active addiction.

Stress-Vulnerability

What is the Stress-Vulnerability Model?

The American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology defines the stress-vulnerability model as a theory that a “genetic or biological predisposition to certain mental disorders exists and psychological and social factors can increase the likelihood of symptomatic episodes.” While the APA only mentions mental illness in their official definition, the stress-vulnerability model is also applicable to the disease of addiction.

The stress-vulnerability model explores how biological factors and stress impacts a person’s likelihood of developing a substance use disorder or other mental disorder. It is well known that addiction has its biological elements, meaning many hereditary genes can increase one’s risk of developing an addiction, but science also supports stress as a risk factor when it comes to struggling with addiction.

As mentioned above, one of the most common stressors that people with substance use disorders tend to have a history of is childhood trauma. When people experience trauma, it creates a stress response in the body. That stress response can shape how that person perceives and processes the trauma. Common childhood traumas include:

  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Poverty
  • Neglect
  • Being placed in foster care at an early age or put into the care of someone other than the biological parents
  • Loss of a parent
  • Bullying
  • Witnessing/experiencing one or more violent acts

When traumatic experiences such as these occur at a young age, it affects a child’s resilience against future stress. And, if the proper coping skills are not applied when young, the child’s defense against future stress is diminished even further. But this does not just apply to children, as adults experience trauma as well.

Adults, however, are more likely to have the coping skills needed to manage a traumatic event without turning to the abuse of drugs or alcohol. If those skills are not present in an adult, they can be learned in a therapeutic setting.

There is no doubt that stress makes us more emotionally vulnerable. And when we are struggling with our feelings and do not know how to handle them, it is simply human nature to find a way to make ourselves feel better. For many people, drugs and alcohol provide that relief. Unfortunately, if issues related to stress are not identified and addressed, no amount of drugs or alcohol will make the pain go away.

Thankfully, there is treatment available that is effective and compassionate.

Do You Need Help for Your Substance Use Disorder?

Struggling with addiction to any type of substance can be traumatic and devastating, especially if you have been using to minimize stress. You may very well think that you are never going to be able to not use even if you do not want to. This is a common concern. However, there is nothing that can stand in your way of getting sober if you are determined to stop using—even stress.

Do not allow yourself to continue spiraling out of control. Addiction is a very painful disease to live with, but you do not have to live with it. At JourneyPure Clarksville, we can help you overcome the stressors that trigger your continued use, as well as provide you with the skills you need in order to maintain long-term recovery.

So call us now! We can help.