Hardly anyone considers stress a good thing. But stress, held in check by the human body, is beneficial and necessary for achieving goals, staying out of harm’s way, coping with life’s upsets and fighting off illness. The adrenal glands see to it that the body responds appropriately to stress.
The two tiny adrenal glands, also known as endocrine glands, are situated on the kidneys. They do affect kidney function to some degree, but their primary job is the release of hormones—chiefly adrenaline and cortisol—in response to stress.
Adrenaline speeds up blood circulation and breathing. It primes the body for excitement and prepares the muscles for exertion. Adrenaline also triggers the “fight or flight” instinct in situations that pose danger.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone. Its benefits are evident in nearly every part of the body. It increases blood sugar and stamina; helps the body metabolize fats and carbohydrates in food; and regulates glucose levels throughout. These functions assist the body in producing natural energy. Cortisol also increases capacity for coping with physical, psychological and emotional stress, and helps alert the immune system to the presence of disease.
The adrenal glands can be weakened in several ways. Overreaction to everyday stress, such as chronic anxiety, paranoia or panic, can tire the glands. Overuse of coffee, tobacco or prescribed stimulants like Ritalin disrupts adrenal cell function and hormonal balance.
But speed addiction essentially causes the body to classify every occasion of stress as an all-out emergency. The adrenals, pushed to their limit, become overworked and underperforming. Highly toxic substances like methamphetamine and cocaine shut down the work of cells that produce natural energy, especially when the drugs are smoked or injected for a high-intensity “rush.” Furthermore, people who use speed this way often can’t handle the emptiness and letdown following a “high.” Their remedy for cushioning the fall might be alcohol or heroin, depressants that do their own adrenal damage. Severe substance abuse eventually leads to severe adrenal fatigue.
Since speed creates the illusion of energy, anyone suffering from a speed addiction may not realize he’s completely exhausted until he tries to take a break from the drug. Adrenal fatigue is readily apparent when stimulants are withdrawn and the user fails to summon natural energy on his own. Aside from marked tiredness, symptoms of this internal breakdown may include dizziness, vomiting, achy joints or loss of appetite.
Stimulants also increase production of cortisol. This hormone normally plays a role in the regulation of the immune system. But at overly high levels of cortisol, immune cells receive a wrong message, one that tells them to stop fighting and give up. That’s one reason that substance abusers are so often allergic or sick.
Fortunately, the human body is highly resilient. For anyone suffering from speed addiction, pursuing treatment and beginning the detoxification process, will help the body respond quickly to rebuild and heal. Dietary advice is critical in this stage of recovery. Nutrients and minerals are needed for restoring balance in the cells and re-boosting adrenal function. With a corrected diet, supervised by a medical doctor, conditions will start to improve. The body will have the foods it needs to work with, and cells will show greater capacity for producing energy.
From a physical standpoint, patients in rehab are often astonished by how quickly they bounce back. As they recoup the energy that was lost to speed addiction, most take up some form of exercise or other physical activity.
A recovering addict’s biggest advantage might be his own body’s determination to thrive.