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Messages From the Director

The Effects of Stress on Drug Abuse After Katrina

NIDA Director Nora Volkow

September 2005

The emotional impact and uncertainty stemming from the overwhelming damage to our Gulf Coast and widespread upheaval of Americans make it more important than ever that we have effective methods to cope with stress. These times may be particularly difficult for people who are vulnerable to substance abuse or who may be recovering from an addictive disorder. We know, for example, that stress is one of the most powerful triggers of relapse, even after prolonged periods of abstinence from drugs of abuse.

Research also shows that an illness called Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) may develop in people who experience or even witness a severe traumatic event. From both research and clinical experience we know that PTSD is a strong risk factor for substance abuse and addiction. As events continue to unfold in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and in other states affected by Hurricane Katrina, it is likely that some individuals, including those who are helping with the rescue efforts, may encounter behavioral and emotional readjustment problems of varying severity, and may be prone to use drugs and alcohol to try to escape from the realities of their days.

It is especially important during these stressful and uncertain times that we all focus on restoring our emotional well-being. We must be attentive to how we as individuals are responding to stress—and also to how our family, friends, and colleagues are responding. Be alert for increases in substance use and make sure that substance abusers and those with mental health problems seek professional help.


Nora D. Volkow, M.D.

For more information on substance abuse and mental health:

If you are in crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

This page was last updated September 2005

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