Adversity refers to difficulties, misfortunes, or hardships. There are six types of adversity: physical adversity, mental adversity, emotional adversity, social adversity, spiritual adversity, and financial adversity. Psychosocial refers to the connection between social factors and an individual’s thoughts and behaviors. Research finds that people exposed to a lifetime of psychosocial adversity may experience impaired abilities to produce the dopamine levels necessary for coping with stressful situations.

Research supports the fact that long-term exposure to psychological trauma and abuse increases the risks of mental illness and substance abuse. Chronic adversity can increase the susceptibility of one to experience mental illness, as evidenced by the prevalence of depression and schizophrenia. Sadly, a common outcome of experiencing chronic adversity and subsequent mental illness is suicide. This new research helps us to understand how these risks increase.

The Study

The study utilized 34 volunteers and exposed them to acute stressors while using a brain functioning imaging technique known as positron emission tomography (PET). Half of the volunteers had high levels of lifetime exposure to psychosocial stress, while the other half had low levels. The brain scans following the stress task revealed that those with low levels of lifetime exposure to psychosocial stress had dopamine production in line with the degree of threat that they received.

In those people with high exposure to chronic adversity, the perception of the threat was exaggerated and therefore impaired and lessened their production of dopamine. Since dopamine is known as the feel-good neurotransmitter, it contributes to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction and protects against harmful effects that stress may cause. Since chronic adversity lowers the ability of the brain to produce this crucial chemical, it may increase the risk of mental illnesses and subsequent addictions to drugs or alcohol.

Need Help?

Understanding addiction to drugs or alcohol is imperative to overcoming the disease. Science is continuously improving, and therefore exploring how our brains develop, respond, and change to their environments. The development of an addiction is a different path for every individual suffering from a substance use disorder. Mental illness and addiction often co-occur with one another and therefore require a comprehensive approach to reach recovery. At Fort Behavioral Health, we offer a safe and nurturing space for a long-lasting road to recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call us today at 844.332.1807 or visit us online.


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