What Is Resiliency?

Resilience. The set of characteristics one possesses to overcome difficult situations. A positive response versus a maladaptive one when faced with adversity. Resilience is something we are born with and develop over time as we interact with the world around us. Resiliency is something that can also be broken down.

How resilient someone is depends on multiple factors including innate genetic qualities, coping styles, attitude, personality traits, positive relationships, supportive environments, healthy modeling, and the cultivation of capacities as we grow from infancy towards adulthood. In order for our brains to develop healthy and adaptive capabilities, we need to expose ourselves to a certain amount of stimuli which molds how we respond to life events. If supportive external components are absent, or significant trauma or adversity is profound, the brain’s health is compromised. The risk of lessened resilience occurs, while the risk of psychological and physical illness increases. However, we do need to face circumstances, even difficult ones, in order to give ourselves an opportunity to learn from them and strengthen ourselves.

Resiliency Of The Body And Mind

Our brains work off of a feedback mechanism, both internally with our organs and externally with the outside world. Too much imbalance can result in the brain and body being unable to fight or defend itself against illness. One of the ways we gain physical immunity (resilience to disease), for example, is that we develop antibodies via our immune system in order to fight off disease. Through exposure with the world, we develop our immune system little by little. Another example is through vaccination, which introduces a small amount of a substance, often an illness producing particle itself, triggering our bodies to build immunity to help defend against a more significant blow later on. Either way, this system of defense is a result of us being exposed to something. This allows our body to recognize it and react to it in order to properly defend against a similar, larger attack. Our physical body is constantly learning.

Compare this to psychological immunity, or mental resilience of our mind. It works similarly. In order for our minds to be able to overcome adversity, we need to be “inoculated” with life’s experiences themselves, both good and bad. We deal with many stressors throughout our lifespan, many which our brains will process and develop resistance against. These processes warn us, allow us to cope, or nurture us to help navigate more adaptively when a similar situation occurs at a later time. We need that recognition and feedback mechanism intact in order to mount a healthy psychological response. Adolescence for example, a critical time of anatomic and physiologic brain growth, should occur within an environment which grooms healthy brain development. Unfortunately, that is also a time when one first starts experimenting with drugs or alcohol.  If we continue to use, our healthy progression is that much more impeded.

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How Drugs And Alcohol Break Resiliency

When we use drugs or alcohol to defend ourselves against difficult experiences of the mind, we have broken that recognition and feedback mechanism. We are essentially living in a bubble as we stop the inoculation process. We stop the brain’s ability to identify the psychological threat, analyze and process it, digest it, absorb or extract from that experience what is beneficial, while spitting out or eliminating the waste that is not. We fail to give ourselves an opportunity to develop immunity and cope with that circumstance. Unfortunately, when a pattern of drug or alcohol use spirals into addiction, there is a consistent cycling of absence from both healthy and unhealthy experiences. The brain is no longer benefitting from any positive experiences which could cultivate our mind and make us strong, or negative experiences which could produce an adaptive response to help us cope during difficult experiences which are later thrown at us. Addiction deprives the mind and body of being inoculated, or vaccinated, with life. As drugs or alcohol consume the body from the inside out, we further weaken our mind and body. This is most evident when we stop using these substances. When we come out of this bubble, we have developed no mental immunity. The negative experiences and trauma that went unresolved and unprocessed, now creep up on us making us sick. The realities which we have not become accustomed to, seem overwhelming and terrifying. Normal processes seem strange, and difficult processes seem unbearable. This often triggers us to use again.

Breaking The Cycle

There is hope within the cycle of drug and alcohol abuse. Gaining sobriety helps heal this broken resiliency. In spite of the difficulties we face when first stopping drug and alcohol use, the healing process starts right away. It is not an easy process, but our brains are remarkable in that they can actually heal. Our minds can rebuild resiliency. Seeking treatment and getting help is often the first step in this process. Medically supervised detoxification often is needed to help safely come off drugs and alcohol and help prepare the body and brain to achieve a level of stability that allows things to start making sense for us. Therapy is often needed to help us process those unresolved experiences and bring clarity to our emotions and behaviors. As time goes on, we learn to cope with our lives again, and have the ability to once again become resilient.

For more information about addiction and finding treatment, contact a treatment provider today.

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Dr. Ashish Bhatt

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  • Dr. Ashish Bhatt, MD, MRO is an accomplished physician, addiction medicine specialist, and psychiatrist with over 20 years of medical and administrative leadership.

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