The Role of Stress in the Adaptation to Self-destructive Behaviors

This study investigated the subject of stress from an interdisciplinary orientation with the intent of formulating a premise as to what motivates people to pursue behaviors which, based on their predisposing relationship to illness and mortality statistics, are self-destructive. A theory was proposed which accounts for the prevalence and perseverance which typify the propensity to indulge in self-destructive behaviors. According to this theory, behaviors detrimental to health are enabled by the increasing availability of various substances which make it increasingly possible to self-regulate stress. The motivation to regulate stress is affect based. Optimal levels of arousal are sought, while the corresponding exhaustion and depression are avoided. Because of the strong relationship between illness and depression, the avoidance of depression is adaptive. Self-destructive behaviors which have the immediate effect of eliminating or reducing depression may be simultaneously adaptive and maladaptive predicated upon the instinct to survive. The result is that the stress induced corresponding emotions of anxiety and depression are being bifurcated in a manner which has implications for the functioning of stress as a survival mechanisms, and possibly for the evolving composition of the brain.