The Importance of Stimulating Environment

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The Importance of Stimulating Environment

Environmental factors play a large role addiction

A few decades ago, the Rat Park experiment done by Alexander made a big splash in the scientific community, especially in regards to addiction research. Since then, the validity and implications of the study have been explored significantly. Despite the many questions that may be associated with this study, it did bring an important topic into the discussion of addiction that had been, until then, focused mainly on the biological elements of addiction. This was the concept of stimulation or having a stimulating environment. This is a key concept for addiction prevention and recovery. So, let’s talk about the importance of having a stimulating environment.

The Rat Park experiment found, among other things, that when rats were given an environment in which they could thrive, they preferred to drink water and not morphine-laced water, even if morphine had addictive properties. When rats who were put from a restricted and isolated environment into an environment that had everything a rat needed to be happy, the rats stopped drinking the morphine-laced water, albeit they preferred it before that. Now, people are not rats and have more complicated preferences and desires. While rats needed only places to run and explore, as well as the opportunity to eat, mate, and interact with other rats, what constitutes a stimulating environment for a person is more complex to define.

What does it mean to have a stimulating environment in general? It means to have an environment that allows the person to thrive and grow, as well as to stay busy with different activities that are interesting, engaging, and satisfying.

How does this environment connect to addiction? A more stimulating environment contributes to a higher well-being and makes the individual happier and more satisfied. It reduces their distress and provides them with new tools to manage their negative emotions and structure their time.

What might we include in a stimulating environment? There are many different things that may also vary depending on the individual’s preferences and tastes. However, there are some key aspects. The first one is the need to have opportunities for work and education. Some small cities suffer from this, as there are limited opportunities for work or study within the town. An example of this is a town that depends, primarily on a single source of jobs, like a factory or a mine, that quickly goes downhill when the source closes down. A lack of opportunities for education and work lead to a lack of development and financial resources. Secondly, one might consider the need for relationships. All people, even introverted ones, need to have meaningful and close relationships. An environment that contributes to isolation might promote addiction because people feel lonely and depressed. The next aspect of a stimulating environment is access to different types of activities. For instance, having green spaces around to walk in and opportunities for physical activity, having courses or cultural centers, having libraries and movie theaters and even malls are all aspects of a stimulating environment. A lot of attention in the prevention of addictive behaviors in latter years has been focused on creating, for instance, urban environments where young people can entertain themselves and engage in sports or artistic activities.

When talking about not just prevention but addiction recovery, it becomes very important to create a new, more stimulating environment for the person who is struggling with addiction. This means that the person should find new and better ways to occupy their time and foster all aspects that promote their well-being, for instance, positive relationships, hobbies, volunteering, artistic activities, sports, and others. This allows the person to find new ways to feel happy and satisfied without needing to resort to drugs.

A stimulating environment has lower levels of distress as well as different things that promote positive emotions, enjoyment, connectedness, and other things. People have needs beyond the basic ones: needs to be entertained, need to be close to other people, need to grow and practice their abilities. By creating an environment that is more in line with these needs, individuals with addiction can more effectively stay sober.

The Rat Park experiment remains controversial and has had limited testability with people, as opposed to rats. However, interestingly, some support for the finding came from war veterans. When veterans came back from Vietnam, many came back with drug problems. However, at home, at environments that were free of distress and much more stimulation, most kicked the habit with little issue despite the addictive properties of the drugs. It may be important to create a stimulating environment to promote well-being and recovery from addiction.

 

If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction reach out to the professionals at Valley Spring. If you want to learn more about our sober community 0r you’d like to learn more information, we can help you take the next step. Feel free to read our previous blog about what is the opioid epidemic.

Co-occurring Disorders

Mental Health deserves center stage alongside Addiction

Addiction is a serious issue on its own. It requires a  significant effort on the behalf of the person to seek treatment and go through a rehabilitation and recovery process. Any addiction can significantly affect the individual’s quality of life and can be difficult to treat. However, one of the issues associated with addiction is that it often doesn’t occur alone. Individuals with substance abuse problems frequently have co-occurring disorder, usually other mental health issues, that can make the treatment for addiction much more complex.

What are some common disorders that occur together with addiction? The first category is mood disorders. Problems like depression are very common among individuals who have addiction. Some people with this disorder may also have undiagnosed (or diagnosed) bipolar disorder. Another common category is anxiety. Many individuals who have addiction also have anxiety disorders, like generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder, which is characterized by the presence of panic attacks. One particular problem that is significantly associated with addiction is Post-Traumatic Stress disorder. Many people with addiction can also have other mental health issues, which might range from problems like personality disorders to disorders like schizophrenia.

Why do these issues occur together with addiction? This may be because they precede it or occur (or become worse) due to substance abuse. Let’s take a closer look at this.

First, mental health disorders may occur with addiction because they precede it. Frequently, a person can have a mental health issue that remains undiagnosed or untreated. In this case, the individual can use different ways to deal with their symptoms. Someone with depression, for example, can use alcohol to numb themselves or take a stimulant to feel euphoric and happy for a while. A person with an anxiety disorder can use alcohol to relax in social situations and cope with their anxiety. Someone with post-traumatic stress disorder might abuse substances to cope with the symptoms. For people who do not know about treatment options, have never received a diagnosis, or who have limited  funds to afford proper treatment, drugs and alcohol might serve as ways of dealing with the symptoms on the short-term, which can lead to addiction. While not all people with substance abuse problems start using because of untreated mental health disorders, this is true of many individuals.

Valley Spring Sober Living NYC Co-occurring disorder illness mental health

 

However, substance abuse is, at best, a temporary solution for problems associated with mental health issues. Most substances can make the symptoms worse on the long run and may also contribute to the development of mental health issues. For example, there is some evidence that in people who have a predisposition for different conditions, like schizophrenia, using certain drugs, like marijuana, can trigger a psychotic episode. For most, substances can make their symptoms significantly worse or lead to the appearance of new issues even if there were none previously. Why does this happen?

Substances have an effect on the brain. Many drugs change the way the brain functions because they alter the neurochemical balance or the way in which the brain operates. For example, one can take a look at heroin. When a person becomes dependent on heroin, it means that their brain operates normally when there is heroin in their system but abnormally when there is not. The brain becomes accustomed to the presence of heroin and releases a certain amount of a neurotransmitter that is excessive when there is no heroin to deal with it. This neurotransmitter, noradrenaline, can make the person feel anxious and induce symptoms of withdrawal that harm the individual’s well-being and mental health. Other substances act upon the brain reward system. This means that the brain does not release the neurotransmitters associated with reward anymore unless the person is using. This means that the individual can no longer  enjoy other activities, which is associated with depression and make this problem worse.

Additionally, it can be difficult to treat addition when there is another disorder present. It means that this disorder also needs to be addressed, because kicking an addiction puts strain on the brain and the body and can temporarily worsen the symptoms of the disorder. This makes the person more distressed and might make them more likely to use again to relieve the symptoms, especially if the substance was used as “medication” for the disorder previously.

An effective type of treatment for addiction will need to address and accommodate the other disorder as well. In many cases, providing treatment for the co-occurring disorder can be very beneficial for the person and can lead to significantly better results.

Co-occurring disorder are an important feature of addiction. It is essential to see if the person is experiencing the symptoms of other mental health disorder and address it as well as the addiction.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and battling mental illness, Valley Spring can help get you connected to the appropriate professionals! We offer a sober community in NYC and provide recovery services to those struggling with addiction. If you’d like to learn more about the damaging effects of alcohol or learn more about sober homes <– Click here. And please feel free to read our previous blog about if media depictions of drug use have an impact of real-world drug use.