Stress Responses: Fight, Flight, or Freeze

Stress Responses: Fight, Flight, or Freeze

Table of Contents

Stress Responses: Fight, Flight, or Freeze

In these challenging times, most people experience stress. The difference is in how we cope with trauma and triggers. Some of us can find balance, while others compound their problems through unhealthy coping mechanisms. One of the most significant issues in the United States is the number of people using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. In Portland, Maine, you have a place to turn to when struggling with mental health problems and substance use disorder. Liberty Bay Recovery Center provides several programs designed to get to the root of substance use disorders and get you on the path to sobriety.


Fear Responses and How They Affect Our Mental Health

Fear is at the base of many mental health issues, including PTSD. Fear and anxiety can be related to past events in our lives and triggered by similar circumstances, or they can stem from an inability to achieve balance when dealing with everyday events.

When we experience fear or anxiety, we begin to feel overwhelmed and unable to move forward freely. Sometimes, we try to escape our problems, even briefly, by turning to drugs and alcohol to relax or numb our emotions.

Just as our problems are unique, how we react to stress and traumatic events is also. Psychologists term these coping mechanisms the fight, flight or freeze response.

Often, how we respond is linked to our natural personalities and combined with learned behaviors. For example, we see how our parents and other influential figures in our lives deal with problems, and we tend to react the same way.


Fighting Your Way Through Trauma

When feeling afraid or anxious, some of us are natural fighters. When we’re in danger or feeling attacked, we might respond by confronting the problem or antagonist. The trigger can threaten our safety or a perceived slight, such as an offensive comment. However, in the fight response, the reaction is often hostility, anger, or abuse.

The pent-up hostility and anger lead to additional stress without a healthier way of coping with triggers. Eventually, it can negatively affect your mental and physical health.


Deer in the Headlights Syndrome

Have you ever been so scared or surprised by events that you froze? You feel like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car on a highway at night. You know you’re in danger, but you’re unable to react.

This is known as the freeze response to fear, and it’s very common. It happens when you experience a shock to your system that is so great that your mind cannot understand it and tells your body what to do to avoid the threat. Because of this emotional and physical paralysis, our anxiety is compounded by feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy.

Fleeing From Stress

A natural response to danger or discomfort is to run away from it. This is the flight response, and it echoes how humans have dealt with danger since the dawn of our existence.

The events in our lives don’t necessarily need to be massive to send us into a downward spiral of anxiety, despair, shame, or guilt. Even one traumatic event can set the stage for continued fear-based responses in the future. In addition, a lifetime of negative events and environments, consistent patterns of unhealthy choices, or being shown ineffective coping skills can set us up for learned patterns of unhealthy reactions to trauma and stress.


Stress, Trauma, and Substance Use Disorder

How do you manage stress? For many of us, career, school, or relationship problems manifest as physical and emotional issues, such as sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, and anxiety. Sometimes, we take a drink, pop a pill, or smoke a joint to deal with emotional pain.

For some, the first instinct after a traumatic event is to have a drink. We begin to feel relaxed afterward, and we might believe that we can better cope with whatever is happening around us. This practice is often mirrored in literature and film, and it teaches us to escape physical or emotional pain by self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.

Such self-medicating can lead to a vicious cycle of dealing with outside stressors by artificial means. Rather than developing the tools to manage negative life experiences, we mask our pain and anxiety with intoxicants. Doing this worsens additional problems unless we receive help, guidance, and support to resolve the underlying issues.

According to information presented by the National Library of Medicine, the rates of SUDs among historically traumatized populations, such as those living in urban centers, correlated directly with the levels of trauma suffered, whether through witnessing events like violent crime or personally experiencing them as victims.

Many study participants were victims of childhood sex abuse, domestic abuse, and other violent crimes. Of the participants in the studies:

  • 8% used marijuana
  • 39% used alcohol
  • 1% used some form of cocaine
  • 2% used heroin or other opiates

The results were even more far-reaching in a report compiled by the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

The ISTSS found that:

  • Between one-tenth and one-third of those recovering from an illness, accident, or violent crime reported excessive alcohol use. The greater their physical pain, the more likely they were to self-medicate.
  • Up to 80% of veterans seeking treatment for PTSD also meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD).
  • Victims of sexual assault reported higher incidences of substance use disorder than those who have not experienced such attacks. This statistic was equally true for men and women represented in the report.
  • Children and adolescents who have experienced sexual or physical abuse are four times more likely than their peers to develop SUDs.

Moreover, people diagnosed with PTSD are 14 times more likely to be diagnosed with alcohol or substance use disorder. Approximately 20% of those diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression also fit the criteria for AUD/SUD.

Although anyone can experience alcohol and substance use disorders, these statistics don’t mean everyone enduring prolonged stress, or trauma will develop a substance use disorder. It also depends on your background, conditioning, and the amount of support and stability in your life.


Signs of Stress/Trauma-Related Mental Health Disorders

We all have some stress in our lives. It doesn’t need to be a significant life event that brings it on, and it’s not always negative. Planning a wedding or the birth of a child are joyful events that are notoriously stressful. Having a high-pressure career can lead to a chronic state of tension. How can you tell when normal stress levels have transitioned into a full-blown mood disorder?

Johns Hopkins Medical Center lists the symptoms of mood disorders as follows:

  • Persistent feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Ongoing feelings of anxiety or sadness
  • Low self-esteem or feeling unworthy
  • Excessive feelings of shame or guilt
  • No interest in activities or things that once brought joy
  • Decreased energy
  • Sleep disturbances or insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Anger and irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Repeated thoughts of self-harm or suicide

Although chronic stress, anxiety, and depression are prevalent in our society, and many of those coping with these disorders also struggle with substance use, one of the most tenacious culprits is PTSD. This condition can be complex and long-term, often at the root of anxiety and depression.

According to the Mayo Clinic, signs of PTSD include:

  • Sudden bursts of anger or irritability
  • Problems sleeping, including nightmares
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of emotional numbness
  • Avoiding people, places, and activities
  • Reliving the trauma or having flashbacks to traumatic events

Attempts to numb the emotional pain of these symptoms often lead to using drugs or alcohol. In addition, repeated use of intoxicating substances can lead to dependence and addiction.

Dependence means that your brain and body have become accustomed to the effects of your substance of choice and need more with each use to continue achieving the desired feeling.


Symptoms of Substance Use Disorder

Whether the substance of choice is alcohol, prescription or illegal drugs, or some combination, the symptoms of substance use disorder in any form are quite similar. However, it is important to note that these symptoms can be subtle and easy to hide. Symptoms of addiction or substance misuse include:

  • Preoccupation with using or finding drugs/alcohol
  • Inability to control, cut down, or stop substance use
  • Feelings of panic when alcohol/drugs are unavailable
  • Secretive behavior and irritability when questioned about the use
  • Making risky decisions while under the influence of alcohol/drugs
  • Continued use despite negative consequences
  • Entering dangerous situations to obtain drugs/alcohol

There are also many unhealthy behaviors that may indicate a person is struggling with substance use. Distinguishing the behavioral signs of addiction from less server issues can be difficult. Possible behavioral signs of alcohol and drug dependency can include:

  • Increased absences and tardiness, declining performance, and unusual disinterest at work or school
  • Disregard for personal hygiene and appearance, losing or gaining weight rapidly, decreased energy or motivation
  • Avoiding, becoming secretive with, and other drastic changes in relationships with family and friends
  • Sudden and unexplained financial problems or asking for money without providing an explanation
  • Uncharacteristic arrests and unexpected legal problems

If you recognize these symptoms and behaviors in yourself or a loved one and want to learn more. Contact us today. Our knowledgeable and compassionate Addiction and Recovery Representatives can answer any questions and help you understand substance use disorder better.


Treating SUD and Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders

At Liberty Bay Recovery Center, we are equipped to help you or your loved one cope with substance use and mental health disorders. Our comfortable setting, compassionate staff, and various programs provide the guidance, support, and real-world skills to manage whatever life throws your way.


Recovery Treatment Programs

We offer several options for drug/alcohol rehabilitation, including:

Alcohol and Drug Detox/Withdrawal

The road to recovery process begins with detox and withdrawal, which can be managed with medications to ease the pain of withdrawal.

The side effects of detox, aka withdrawal symptoms, can vary depending on the type of substances used, but they generally include:

    • Insomnia
    • Mood Swings
    • Irritability
    • Intense drug or alcohol cravings
    • Depression and anxiety
    • Fatigue
    • Nausea
    • Body aches and pain

Therapeutic Options

Each of our treatment programs includes individual and group therapy. Designed to uncover and address the root causes of addiction and any co-occurring conditions related to or worsened by substance use. Our addiction therapy services include Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Dual Diagnosis Treatment, Trauma Therapy, and Medication Management.

Group therapy offers peer-to-peer support and accountability. Clients can also learn new coping skills and tools to help them manage stress or trauma in the future. Medical detox is a technique that uses approved medications to ease the pain of withdrawal and prevent cravings that can lead to relapse.

Supplemental Therapies

Because holistic approaches to wellness support long-term recovery, we offer a range of supplementary therapies. Such as yoga classes and art therapy.

These practices will help you find peace and balance while you’re in the program and help you maintain balance and deal with stress when you return to the outside world.

Nutritional support in the form of healthful meals and snacks will provide a structured daily routine. This offers a way of returning to healthy habits like eating well while regaining strength.


Help Is Close at Hand

When you can cope with stress and trauma in a balanced, holistic way, you’ll unshackle yourself from self-harming behaviors. At Liberty Bay Recovery Center, we invite you to experience the power of freedom.


Contact us to learn more about our programs or arrange treatment.