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Anger and Addictions as a Result of Stress

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Overwhelmingly, studies have shown that childhood trauma causes people to self medicate with drugs or alcohol to reduce anxiety and improve mood. For others, peer pressure or social anxiety may trigger a person to use a substance to be more relaxed and socially flexible. Substance abuse may begin as an attempt to calm the nerves and escape from a feeling of painful emotional feelings. For those who periodically abuse alcohol or drugs, they may be self medicating their anxiety when they are under the stress of painful events, grief, and loss of a loved one or career. Although many people that abuse drugs and alcohol may become psychologically dependent on the substance, only a small number of people with become truly physically dependent.

Why do People Become Physically Addicted?

Although there is strong evidence that implies a genetic predisposition, physical addiction is the result of the body protecting itself from the toxic effects of the substance. The body changes itself so the liver, brain and other body organs do not die from the huge amount of noxious chemicals, sugar, alcohol or drugs in the system. When the substance is stopped, the body responds with powerful cravings and emotional turmoil that reminds the person to use the substance again.

The Brain Stops Producing "Feel Good" Chemicals in the Addicted

In addition, the brain is a very efficient organ, and will stop making certain enzymes and neurotransmitters if the person is using a certain substance. Opiates, cocaine and junk food are good examples of this process. The receptors on the brain, known as the pleasure center, create the "reward" neurotransmitter, known as dopamine. This chemical makes the person feel good, safe and excited about being alive. For instance, the great feeling of winning a race, a 100 percent on a school paper or the winning lottery number is stimulated by the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. When addicted to a substance that provides dopamine, the body stops making it to reduce the risk of overproduction. The addict is now dopamine deficient, and if the substance is stopped abruptly, the person will experience profound depression with extreme stress and cravings. This phenomenon is why people have so much difficulty quitting an addiction, the person is in emotional agony from lack of brain chemicals that are no longer produced in sufficient quantities to counteract depression. Typically, it may take several weeks to months until the brain restores the dopamine receptor sites and produces a "feel good" effect in an addicted person.

When the Substance is Stopped, People Experience Anger and Withdrawal Symptoms due to Decreased "feel good" Brain Chemicals

Pet Scan Simulation Reveals Dopamine Receptor Sites in the Brain

Pet Scan Simulation Reveals Dopamine Receptor Sites in the Brain

Signs and Symptoms of Physical & Emotional Dependence of Addiction

Addictive SubstanceSigns and Symptoms of AddictionEmotional Withdrawal from Substance


Uses a caffeinated beverage every 2-4 hours

Tiredness, irritability and complaint of being stressed, painful and persistent boring headache

Cigarettes (Nicotine)

Increased tolerance and smokes more to stop the effects of withdrawal

irritability, anger and rage. Emotional agony


Drinks more to maintain desired feeling and may hide use from family and friends

May be mild from tremors or difficulty concentrating to serious delusions and tremens.

Opiates (Pain Killers)

Builds a tolerance and requires more to produce the desired effect. Visits several doctors to acquire more.

Crying spells, anger and agitation. May feel "agony" or "impending doom."


Uses more over a period of time, spends more money on drug despite expense. May lose job or stop attending school

Severe depression, crying, may describe powerful cravings that "call to them." Very hard to stop using despite the problems with work or family life.

Junk Food

Food or beverage of choice is eaten or drank at least daily. The food provides comfort, calming and treats depression. Continued use despite weight gain or health consequences.

Anger, irritability and depression. May experience anxiety and powerful cravings for food or beverage. May hide food and feel ashamed.

The Cycle of Addiction and Stress

As the addicted person uses more of the substance to manage stress, they may suffer both physical, emotional and environmental consequences that increases stress. Several attempts to stop using increases stress on the body and may create mental anguish. Anger and rage often result from the stress created by the withdrawal symptoms or the amount of the drug may overwhelm the body. A vicious cycle of stress and addiction ensues.

Pituitary Gland, Adrenal Glands & Heart

The Pituitary Gland Sends a Signal to the Adrenal Glands that Danger in Near

The Pituitary Gland Sends a Signal to the Adrenal Glands that Danger in Near

Adrenal Glands Create Adrenaline

Adrenal Glands Create Adrenaline

Heart Receptor Sites are Targeted by Adrenaline

Heart Receptor Sites are Targeted by Adrenaline

References and Sources

Stress and Addiction

Comorbidity of Child Abuse and Addiction

Studies Link Stress and Addiction

The Role of Stress in Addiction

The Reactions of Stress and Anger

When the person is under stress, their body reacts to the situation as a " life-threatening" event, and the brain will signal the pituitary gland to release hormones to the adrenal glands located on the top of the kidneys. Often, the addicted brain will respond to the unavailability of the substance as important as food or water for survival. That is why the "drug" becomes more important than anything else in the addicted person's life.

The Adrenalin Rush

The adrenal glands produce adrenaline, the flight or fight hormone, and the surge of anger or rage begins to coarse through the bloodstream. As the surge of adrenaline continues, the body is overwhelmed with a rush of a powerful hormone in response to fear or frustrations. Most people describe this sensation as a "rush of anger in the chest."

The Heart Beats Harder and Faster

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Adrenaline targets the receptor sites on the heart and prepares the body with more oxygen for protecting the body from danger. The increased heart rate is indicative of the powerful hormone adrenaline.

How can People Deal with Stress in a Positive Way?

People who have addictions should acquire professional assistance from the mental health community. Learning how to cope in a positive way that does not include substance abuse is an important step to healing. Withdrawal symptoms may have serious health considerations and should be medically supervised in certain cases. The instant gratification of food, alcohol and drugs to control stress and treat depression is difficult to overcome with healthier, but slower, methods.

Simple Things to do to Reduce Dependence on Substances

  • Educate yourself on what can be the cause of your stress and depression
  • Find a therapist that you trust and who specializes in addictions
  • Join a support group that makes you feel welcomed and safe
  • Try meditation or deep breathing techniques designed to decrease stress
  • Try alternate and healthier ways to look at the stressor and keep a healthy perspective of what you can control, and what is beyond your control


Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on October 17, 2012:

Hi Glimmer, thanks for reading my hub. Junk food is a major addictive substance, and that was the maker of the junk foods intention. They spend a lot of money on trying to figure out how to addict us to their food. The know how much sugar, fat and salt that people under stress crave, and they create the food that matches that need. Thanks for the support Glimmer, see you soon!

Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on October 17, 2012:

Congrats Cam on your hard work and dedication to your health. Three and half years is certainly something to be proud of. Thank you for sharing your personal experience with us and for your supportive comments.

Claudia Mitchell on October 17, 2012:

Really interesting hub. Now I know why I run to the junk food when I am stressed. Voted up!

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on October 16, 2012:

This was a very informative hub. I recognize a lot of it from my time in treatment for alcoholism. Life gets better day by day. I've been sober for three and a half years. Thanks for your strong work on this article.

Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on October 16, 2012:

Thanks Eiddwen, appreciate you stopping by as always.

Eiddwen from Wales on October 16, 2012:

Well informed and interesting.


Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on October 15, 2012:

Thanks MH, thanks for the support.

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on October 15, 2012:

Good information. Thank you. Well presented and easy to understand.

Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on October 15, 2012:

Hello Rosie and thank you for your kind words. Education is really key to understanding what we and ours are experiencing. I am so glad it explains a lot, addiction issues touch everyone just about everyday.

Audrey Surma from Virginia on October 15, 2012:

This explains a lot. It helps me to understand some circumstances I have witnessed. I have little power to change them, but like to have some understanding. Thanks for such a thorough examination of this issue.

Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on October 15, 2012:

That's right Mary, prescription drug abuse has doubled in the last 10 years and alcohol has stayed the same. Thank you for the support and I am so glad you found it a helpful hub. Thanks! I will read yours as well and am looking forward to it.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on October 15, 2012:

Very informative and interesting Hub. You did a great job with the chart pertaining to each drug and the effect on the brain. These addictions are a real problem in our society today. More and more people are becoming addicted to prescription pain killers and dying from them. I wrote a hub about that subject. I invite you to read mine when you have some time.

I voted this Hub UP, etc.

Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on October 15, 2012:

Thank you Pamela, I did my best. It's not an easy topic and I tweaked it and squeezed it over and over. Thank you for your support and my greatest wish is to help people understand themselves, their loved ones and friends that struggle with these human frailties that touch all our lives.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 15, 2012:

This is an excellent article. You explained how the brain works with addictions so well. I know this hub will help many people.

Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on October 15, 2012:

Thank you so very much Epigramman, you are such an inspiration to me. It means so much to know you like my topics and appreciate my writing, as you know, I am your greatest fan!

epigramman on October 15, 2012:

...I will say this over and over, time and time again - you are an essential writer here at the Hub. You are saving lives and you are making a difference in people's lives by improving the quality in their lives and offering suggestions and alternatives. In short you are making us think and when a writer does that - then she/he is at the top of their game and you are definitely at the top of yours ......

sending warm wishes on a cold bleak typical mid-October day here by the lake although I had two nice walks around the bay of my lake and enjoying the fresh air and the natural elements

Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on October 15, 2012:

Thanks Peanutritious, I appreciate your support., and your enthusiasm!

Tara Carbery from Cheshire, UK on October 15, 2012:

What a fascinating article. Very interesting indeed!

Deborah (author) from Las Vegas on October 15, 2012:

hello Suzettenaples, thanks for your support and I am so happy you found it interesting. Very nice to meet you and hope to see you again.

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on October 15, 2012:

This is quite an interesting and informative article. You explain the process of addiction quite thoroughtly here. I found this very interesting to read - I didn't know all this. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and expertise. Voted up and shared!

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