Intolerance of uncertainty

Would you go to university if you know that only 93% of graduates get a job? Well, it isn’t 100% but 93% is still good enough. If you say yes, then that’s good because in life we have to accept some uncertainties. And we hope things will work out. But if you are a drug user, the 7% chance of not getting a job will stress you out. You will be thinking about it the whole time, and you wouldn’t even go to university. You become very intolerant of such little uncertainty. But it is hard to name anything in life that is certain. You aren’t 100 sure your marriage will work. You would still love your partner and hope he won’t run away with another girl. You may die young (god forbids). But you will still plan for your retirement.

When you are intolerance of uncertainty in life, you become very stressed and you end up avoiding them.

Researchers at Western Sydney University wanted to see if drug using patients are more intolerant of uncertainty than people who don’t do drugs. We then asked drug using patients and a group of non-drug users to do the intolerance of uncertainty scale. It has questions like

 “Uncertainty makes life intolerable”

“It’s unfair not having any guarantees in life.”

“Uncertainty makes me uneasy, anxious, or stressed.”

“Uncertainty keeps me from living a full life.”

“When it’s time to act, uncertainty paralyses me”

“Uncertainty keeps me from sleeping soundly.”


Participants answer 1-7 on a Likert scale. High scores on this scale is an indication of being intolerant of uncertainty.  Drug using patients scored higher on most questions in comparison to people without addiction. Most of my patients answered 5 or 6 for “Uncertainty makes life intolerable”; 5 or 6 for “Uncertainty makes me uneasy, anxious, or stressed.”;  4 or 5 for “Uncertainty keeps me from sleeping soundly.”  The non-drug using group choose 1 to 3 in most questions.

How does that help you if you are a drug user? Well, if you find yourself not taking an action and feeling that things will not work out, you may want to think about the odds. If it is high enough, try your best to do it.

You may be afraid of trying to recover from drug abuse. But you are afraid because some of your friends tried and failed. But many have tried and have successfully recovered.

Life is uncertain. Do not let the fear the failure stop you from achieving your dream.

Reference: Garami, J., Haber, P., Myers, C. E., Allen, M. T., Misiak, B., Frydecka, D., & Moustafa, A. A. (2017). Intolerance of uncertainty in opioid dependency–Relationship with trait anxiety and impulsivity. PloS one, 12(7), e0181955.