Printer Friendly

Stress and drug abuse.

The Brain Connection

You are about to take a test. The coach is announcing who made the team. Your best friend is mad at you. Most people find such situations stressful. Stress can be defined as an emotional or physical demand or strain (a "stressor") that causes your body to release powerful neurochemicals and hormones. These changes help your body gear up to respond to the stressor. Your blood-sugar levels and blood pressure rise; your heart beats faster; your muscles tense.

There are different levels of stress: Short-term stress can cause uncomfortable physical reactions, but can also help you to focus. Long-term stress--such as stress caused by illness, divorce, or the death of a loved one--can lead to serious health problems. Traumatic events--such as natural disasters, violence, and terrorism--can cause post-traumatic mess disorder (PTSD), a serious illness.

Brain research now indicates that people exposed to stress are more likely to abuse alcohol or other drugs, or to relapse to drug addiction.

Read on to get important facts about this connection.

How Your Body Responds to Stress

Your body's central nervous, endocrine, immune, and cardiovascular systems are involved in responding to stress.

The physical responses can vary: Short-term responses can cause a racing heart, sweaty palms, and a pounding head. Long-term responses can cause back pain, high blood pressure, sleeplessness, and an inability to make decisions. Constant stress floods the body with stress hormones, which can increase the risk of serious health problems.

The hormone that initiates the body's response to stress, CRF, is found throughout the brain. Drugs of abuse also stimulate release of CRF. See the diagram to the right for how this works.

Myth vs. Reality

Myth 1: Drug abuse is harmful, but it does relieve stress.

Reality: Some drugs of abuse affect your brain the same way stress does. Longterm abuse of drugs makes users more sensitive to everyday stress than non-users.

Myth 2: All stress is bad for you.

Reality: Stress can help you deal with tough situations. It can also be associated with positive changes, such as a new job. However, long-term stress can lead to physical and emotional health problems.

Myth 3: Everyone deals with stress in the same way.

Reality: People deal with stress in different ways. How you deal with stress determines how it affects your body.


NIDA researchers have found the following connections between stress and drug abuse:

* Stress can cause changes in the brain like those caused by addictive drugs. This suggests that some people who experience stress may be more vulnerable to drug addiction or drug relapse.

* Those who become addicted to drugs may already be hypersensitive to stress.

* Long-term potentiation (LTP) is a key brain mechanism involved in memory and learning. Researchers have shown that LTP is involved in how both drug exposure and stress affect the brain.

* Stress can put people at risk for substance abuse.

* Scientists have uncovered a rise in substance abuse among people in New York City neighborhoods affected by 9/11, which raises new questions about the public health effects of traumatic events such as disasters.

For more information, visit: and

Managing Stress

Anyone can learn to manage stress, but it does take practice. Here are some practical tips:

* Take care of yourself.

Healthy foods, exercise, and enough sleep really do make you feel better and better able to cope!

* Focus

To keep from feeling overwhelmed, concentrate on challenges one at a time.

* Keep calm

Step away from an argument or confrontation by taking a deep breath. Go for a walk or do some other physical activity.

* Move on.

If you don't achieve something you were trying for, practice and prepare for the next time. Or check out some other activity.

* Talk about it.

Talking to an understanding listener who remains calm can be very helpful.

"We all must develop healthy ways to manage stress, and avoid turning to drugs or other substances to escape stressful realities."

Nora D. Volkow, M.D., Director National Institute on Drug Abuse

Stressing Out?

Read what some teens have said causes them stress:

"Between my job, homework, responsibilities at home, and studying for my SATs, it's easy to feel stressed out and overwhelmed."

--Female, Los Angeles

"Having struggled with eating disorders for many years, I finally realize that I make comparisons and let the appearance/discussions of my peers sometimes alter my own body image."

--Female, Chicago

Physical Appearance: "Television and movies influence the physical appearance and style of most teens ... the most important influence comes from the opposite sex."

--Male, Los Angeles

Stress and Drug Abuse

Dear Teacher:

As a teacher you see students under stress every day--from pressures of over-scheduling to worries about how to fit in. This month's Heads Up article from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Scholastic provides students with information to help them make smart choices when they feel overwhelmed. In the article they'll find science-based facts about stress, information about the connections between stress and drug abuse, and practical suggestions for handling stress.

The Lesson Plan and Activity Reproducible that follow are designed to help students understand this important information.

Thank you for working with NIDA to bring the facts about stress and drug abuse to your students.


Nora D. Volkow, M.D.

Director of NIDA

Lesson Plan & Reproducible

Preparation: Before the lesson, make two photocopies of the Student Activity Reproducible for a pre- and post-lesson quiz.


Students will understand and reinforce their knowledge of how stress affects the body, how drugs impact the body's response to stress, and how stress and drug abuse are related.


Life Science; Science in Personal and Social Perspectives


* Introduce the topic of stress by asking students about stress they experience in their daily lives. Briefly discuss their responses. What are some ways (positive and negative) that teens respond to stress? Record student responses.

* Distribute copies of the Student Activity Reproducible. Tell students to write their name on the paper and answer the questions.

* Have students read the article "Stress and Drug Abuse" in their magazine. When they have finished, begin a discussion by asking, What are some ways that the body reacts to stress? What are some connections between drugs of abuse and stress? What has some of the latest scientific research revealed about stress and drugs?

* After the discussion, have students complete the Student Activity Reproducible again. When they have finished, reveal the correct answers to the reproducible.

* Wrap up the lesson by asking students, How would you respond to a friend who says, "I know that using drugs reduces stress"? What are some healthy ways that you can reduce stress?

* For further student reading, visit for: "Drug Addiction and Stress: The Brain Connection" and "Scientists Find a Connection between 9/11 and Substance Abuse."


l. e; 2. e; 3. e; 4. e; 5. c; 6. d; 7. a; 8. a; 9. b; 10. a

What Do You Know About Stress and Drug Abuse?

Answer the questions below to find out what you know about stress and its connection to drug abuse.

1. Short-term physical responses to stress include:

a. a faster heart rate.

b. sweaty palms.

c. a pounding head.

d. tense muscles.

e. all of the above.

2. Long-term physical responses to stress include:

a. back pain.

b. high blood pressure.

c. sleeplessness.

d. an inability to make decisions.

e. all of the above.

3. Drugs of abuse increase levels of the hormone CRF in the brain. The function of CRF is to:

a. control breathing.

b. control movement of arms and legs.

c. initiate the body's response to stress.

d. stimulate digestion.

4. Stress affects which of these body systems?

a. central nervous

b. endocrine

c. immune

d. cardiovascular

e. all of the above

5. Which of the following statements is true?

a. All stress is bad for you.

b. Using illicit drugs reduces stress.

c. Anyone can learn to manage stress.

d. Everyone deals with stress in the same way.

6. If a friend is stressed out, a good suggestion you might offer would be to:

a. eat healthy foods, exercise, and get enough sleep.

b. talk openly to an understanding listener who will remain calm.

c. focus on one problem at a time.

d. all of the above.

7. The "stress hormone cycle" involves the release of hormones from:

a. the brain, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands.

b. only the adrenal glands.

c. only the brain and the pituitary gland.

d. only the brain.

8. Stress can cause brain changes similar to those caused by drug addiction.

a. title

b. false

9. Drug abuse is harmful, but it does relieve stress.

a. true

b. false

10. Stress is thought to be a cause of relapse to drug addiction.

a. true

b. false
COPYRIGHT 2007 Scholastic, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Date:Jan 22, 2007
Previous Article:Who am I?
Next Article:News IQ.

Related Articles
Heads up real news about drugs and your body.
Heads up real news about drugs and your body.
Prescription drugs: their use and abuse.
Prescription drugs: their use and abuse.
Prescription drug abuse: teens in danger.
Drug abuse in social settings: a serious risk for teens.
Drug abuse in social settings: a serious risk for teens.
Lesson plan & reproducible.
Myth vs. reality.
Stress and drug abuse.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |