Life Stress Behind Natural Disaster’s
Brought to you by Russ Ferstandig, MD.
Wildfire’s or any life stressor can trigger or worsen an addiction of any sort, especially if one has already experienced a natural disaster like a hurricane or flood. Yesterday’s Ocean County wildfires and major toxic fire at the Ocean County Recycling Center were grim reminders that we are all vulnerable to the unexpected and uncontrollable. Sadly, these fires more than likely triggered many people in the area with ongoing addictions and pushed some people who were barely beating their addictions back into active addictive behavior.
For Ocean County, which was hit head on by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and still recovering literally and emotionally, many people felt the reflex fear yesterday that comes from being reminded of recent overwhelming experiences like the chaos and destruction produced by Sandy. As someone who lost his home to Sandy, I felt a pang of fear as I saw the smoke from the Ocean County Recycling Center through my office window, even though I was in no danger whatsoever.
Although it is impossible to prove, it is likely that the trauma that Ocean County has suffered from Sandy is at least partially responsible, if not majorly responsible, for the dramatic increase in opiate problems since Sandy, compared to before October 29, 2012.
Addictions and their addictive behaviors are almost always driven by some form of avoidance of uncomfortable thoughts or genuine real-life problems, especially fear, regardless of the reason. What people do not think about or realize is that seemingly unrelated fears, especially ones that are triggered by natural events beyond our control, like yesterday’s fires, somewhat automatically set off reflex thoughts and behaviors that then trigger addictive thoughts and behaviors.
The good news is that once one realizes this linkage between general fear and triggering of addictive thoughts and behaviors, merely reminding themselves that fear of any type is an addiction trigger can help break the reflex of fear triggering addictions.