Burnout as an Underlying Cause of Addiction

Burnout is a phrase that is bandied around frequently these days, often without giving much thought to what the term actually means or to the factors that cause people to feel so exhausted. Although most people feel “burned out” from time to time, severe burnout is a condition that shouldn’t be ignored.

Stress is a fact of modern life for most of us, but powerful, high performing people with demanding lives often use stress and the resulting adrenaline as the fuel that powers them through the demands of their busy days. Over time, this relentless drive can take its toll. People with severe burnout feel overwhelmed with stress when they wake up in the morning and when they climb into bed at night.

Burnout can be intense enough to threaten health, relationships and careers. Sometimes, it drags on for years while people continue to push thorough feelings of severe mental, physical and emotional exhaustion. Burnout can actually be measured using specialized lab tests such as Cortisol levels. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands to protect the body against stress and it gets fatigued and literally "burnt out" when stress is ongoing.

It isn’t difficult to understand how burnout can be an underlying cause of addiction. Sleep disturbances are a common symptom; racing thoughts prevent people from going to sleep and serve as an unwanted wake-up call up in the middle of the night. People may then turn to alcohol to get some relief, as alcohol is a sedative. Or, they may attempt to medicate stress and anxiety with prescription drugs such as Benzodiazepines etc.
Often, people need help waking up from the drowsiness and foggy mind resulting from sedatives. Some people rely on caffeine to provide an energy boost, but too often, cocaine or amphetamines provide the energy to continue through the day. Other unhealthy distractions such as Internet pornography, gambling or overeating may provide relief by serving as temporary mood-lifters.

Unfortunately, none of these solve anything and a dangerous cycle can soon spiral into full-fledged addiction. There are a number of signs and symptoms to watch for if you’re concerned that you may be suffering from burnout:

  • Weakened immunity and frequent minor illnesses such as colds, headaches, allergies or skin irritations
  • Difficulty with decision-making (even in people who are usually very decisive)
  • Feelings of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion
  • Loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities, including sexuality
  • Feelings of dissatisfaction, disillusionment and boredom, or a sense that life has lost meaning and purpose
  • Intense emotions, including depressive thoughts, anxiety and panic
  • Loss of self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Anger and irritability, infrequent bursts of anger

There is no set timetable for burnout. Some people are able to tolerate relatively high levels of stress for extended periods, while others experience burnout fairly quickly. However, boredom often affects perfectionistic, highly functioning people who set very high self-expectations.
If you are normally a highly motivated, responsible and energetic, it may be difficult to admit that there is a problem. However, it’s critical to seek help as soon as possible because although you may have accomplished great things, you aren’t superhuman and you can’t do everything. With the help of a skilled therapist, you can learn techniques to target and manage sources of stress that have stolen the feelings of reward, accomplishment and joy from your life. When burnout is accompanied by addiction to drugs or alcohol, high quality drug and alcohol addiction treatment are the places to turn to.
Biochemical restoration of depleted body cells and restoring adrenal function is vital and a thorough medical checkup with a holistic physician is highly recommended and should always be part of the treatment of burnout at any stage of severity and duration.

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