As we saw in Part 1 of this series, the tendency toward impulsive decision-making as a response to stress is a risk factor in developing substance use disorder. The opposite of impulsive behaviors are behaviors that are consciously chosen as a response to stress because they are likely to result in healthy, or positive, outcomes.
Deliberative, weighed out responses to stress are a product of “executive function processes” carried out by the pre-frontal-cortex. These are learned during childhood and adolescence, primarily. This is the key component to what is known as “Resilience”. When a concerned, committed adult supports a child’s coping with stressful situations, there is an actual effect on the development of the child’s brain, on their learned ability to cope with stress in a productive manner. This skill or function, once developed, can last a lifetime. This is Resilience.
Resilience can be defined as:
- The ability to overcome serious hardship/stress, or,
- The ability to cope successfully in the face of adversity.
Without the guidance of an attentive, committed adult, the child exposed to toxic stress is likely to not develop Resilience.
Resilience is a potential, it is learned, as are other life-skills. It is taught and modeled for a child by consistent and committed adults in the child’s environment: family members, or, perhaps, other care providers.
At the same time children are being supported through stressful experiences, and therefore learning to cope through both instruction and modeling, their brain development is also being influenced in ways that encourage connectivity between areas crucial to the delay of impulsive action. This allows for the consideration of alternatives, and the choice of healthy solutions to stressful challenges, all pre-frontal cortex functions. It is these innumerable purposeful interactions with attentive, committed adults that tip the balance in a child’s development toward the internalization of Resilience.
If these same children are educated regarding the very real dangers inherent in any psychoactive substance use, especially during the development of the brain, usually through adolescence to the mid-20s, they are likely to make healthy decisions and not engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as substance use to relieve stress.
An ultimate profound reduction in the demand for drugs is the inevitable result.
Teaching Resilience, institutionalizing programs that reach every child and parent, is a very long-term investment we must make in our children, so our children’s children can live in a different world.
If you are interested in learning more about Resilience, please visit Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child: