With the recent onslaught of natural disasters such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and now Maria as well as the giant earthquake in Mexico, right now is a perfect time to look at how natural disasters affect substance abuse.
Although these disasters don’t have statistics since they have just passed through, we do have statistics on how previous disasters have increased substance abuse in the months following them.
A few examples on the increase of abuse after recent disasters:
- Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, hospitalizations for substance abuse increased 2.5%.
- After the earthquake in Haiti, the rate of substance addiction went up more than 4%.
The reason why numbers go up after these disasters is because drugs and alcohol become the numbing agent to combat the psychological distress such as anxiety and depression that come with trauma.
If you think of the aftermath of a flood or hurricane there is a lot of stress and uncertainty that comes with recovering. It doesn’t necessarily matter what your situation is beforehand, everyone in the area is affected in some way or another.
For people in poverty a natural disaster can be especially devastating due to a lack of resources and that can easily cause them to turn to substances. These people probably don’t have money to stay in extended stays in hotels outside the city, neither can they afford to be unemployed.
They are not the only ones affected, however.
People with money may have had their entire business building wiped out and now they have to worry about starting over after years of hard work. Just because they might have a little more money than others does not mean that they don’t also look to cope with their stress through drugs and alcohol.
In situations like Hurricane Harvey, residents can have their whole lives flipped upside down with no guidance on what to do next. This is a lot of trauma and stress to deal with especially if you were unprepared for something like a flood to happen.
Why does trauma affect substance abuse
“Many people who have experienced psychological trauma turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism. A variety of substances can make a user feel numbed, empowered, or calm, for instance – all of which are sensations that might be rarely experienced during sobriety for those who have suffered psychological trauma.”
As opposed to physical trauma, psychological trauma can occur any time a person is faced with stressful situations that exceeds their ability to cope with a particular event. And since everyone is different, not everyone is going to react to a stressor in the same way which is why psychological trauma is highly subjective.
Something that may seem like no big deal for you could be seen as a disaster by someone else. One person may see a flood as a fresh start and someone may see that same flood as the end to all of their dreams. In some cases a natural disaster can even be the final straw in the last of a series of smaller problems that drive the person towards drugs and alcohol for relief.
What to do now
If you were affected by one of the recent hurricanes the best thing you can do now for your mindset is to focus on moving forward and working on your future. Don’t dwell on what happened, because you can’t change that, that’s the past. Thinking about what happened in the past is only going to make you depressed and more stressed out. Instead, put all of your energy into what you can control and forget about the things you can’t.
This is one of the things that Alcoholics Anonymous understands well, at every meeting participants take part in reciting the serenity prayer:
Along with changing the way you think, another important step to take is to get yourself into a professional treatment program where you can learn how to cope with your trauma in healthy ways.
Treatment specialists are here to help treat the underlying causes of your addiction, guide you throughout your recovery, and give you the tools you need to live a happy, addiction-free life.
If you’re someone that is motivated to learn how to deal with your stress in healthy ways instead of turning to drugs and alcohol, call us anytime of day at (877) 212-8299 and after listening to your situation, our treatment specialists will get you into a program that is a perfect fit for your individual needs.