When it comes to maintaining a healthy recovery from drugs and alcohol, managing stress is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Stress is a major factor in addiction recovery.1The Treatment for Stress & Addiction In a Recovery Center. (2022). Retrieved from https://americanaddictioncenters.org/adult-addiction-treatment-programs/stress-and-addiction Many people who have suffered from addiction may also suffer from chronic stress. Whether you are new on your journey of recovery, or you have years of sobriety in your track record, it is vital to understand the connection between stress and addiction. It can save you from physical health complications and can reduce the dangers of relapsing.
What Exactly is Stress?
Stress is a natural human response to life’s challenges. It helps us adapt to change and protect ourselves from harm. But when we’re stressed out, our bodies release chemicals called hormones that cause physical and emotional discomfort. Stress can be a positive motivator, helping us learn and grow, but too much stress can lead to illness and disease.2Stress: Signs, Symptoms, Management & Prevention. (2022). Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11874-stress
When you’re stressed, your body releases chemicals called neurotransmitters that help you cope with stressful situations. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that travel through the brain and nervous system to communicate messages between cells. They regulate many functions in the body, including moods, emotions, sleep cycles, appetite, digestion, energy levels, blood pressure, breathing, and sexual function. These chemicals are released during times of stress and play a role in regulating mood and behavior. Some neurotransmitters are produced naturally by the body, while others are manufactured by the brain.3Stress: Signs, Symptoms, Management & Prevention. (2022). Retrieved 7 July 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11874-stress
We often say that stress is bad for us because it makes us sick. But stress isn’t inherently bad; it’s just a response to a problem.
Does Stress Come in Different Forms? There are three main varieties of stress4:Everything to Know About Stress: Causes, Prevention, and More. (2022). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/stress - Physical - Things such as illness, injury, pain, and surgery - Emotional - Things such as anger, anxiety, depression, grief, fear, guilt, loneliness, and shame - Environmental - Things such as noise, pollution, traffic, demanding tasks, and unsafe conditions
How Does Stress Relate to Substance Use Disorders?
There’s no denying that stress plays a role in addiction recovery. In fact, research shows that stress is a major factor in initial drug and alcohol use, as well as relapses.
Stress and addiction have a synergistic relationship. Each element contributes to one another, creating a vicious cycle for those affected.5Sinha R. Chronic stress, drug use, and vulnerability to addiction. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2008 Oct;1141:105-30. doi: 10.1196/annals.1441.030. PMID: 18991954; PMCID: PMC2732004.
Studies suggest that chronic stress increases the risk of developing alcohol dependence. It’s thought that stress triggers cravings for substances like alcohol, which then leads to compulsive behavior.
Drugs and alcohol can give the illusion of relieving stress. But in reality, it does nothing to solve the source of stress, nor provide any long-term solutions of stress relief outside of continued substance use.
In turn, stress is a common motivation for individuals to use drugs or alcohol. Many people may initially become addicted to psychoactive substances as a means of escaping stressors in their lives.
Unfortunately, this begins to establish an unhealthy pattern in our brain’s neurocircuitry.6Is Stress a Factor of Your Addiction?. (2022). Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/does-stress-cause-addiction-22256 While one’s brain may feel the illusion of immediate stress relief from drugs or alcohol, the underlying stress actually remains and grows. Unfortunately, the use of substances is directly associated with perceived stress relief, they will rely more and more on the substance as means of coping with this mounting stress.
While stress alone doesn’t necessarily lead to substance abuse, it does play a significant role in the development of addictions. For example, studies have shown that people who experience chronic stress are more likely to develop depression and other mood disorders. Additionally, people who struggle with substance abuse disorders are more likely to experience stressful life events.
While stress management techniques can help people recover from SUDs, it’s important to remember that stress doesn’t always lead to substance abuse. Some people experience stress without turning to drugs or alcohol. However, if you’re struggling with stress management, it’s important to seek professional help.
Here are some common ways stress impacts addiction:7Anthenelli, R., & Grandison, L. (2012). Effects of Stress on Alcohol Consumption. Alcohol Research : Current Reviews, 34(4), 381. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860387/ - Stress makes us crave alcohol and other drugs. - Stress causes us to take risks, which increases the chance of engaging in substance use. - Stress triggers cravings for food, which can activate similar addictive reward circuits in the brain. - Stress causes anxiety and depression, which can lead to self-destructive behavior. - Stress causes mood swings, which can trigger cravings or even a relapse.
Common Sources of Stress For People in Recovery.
Relationships: When a relationship becomes strained, it can lead to stress. Some of the most common causes of stress include financial issues, academic pressure, and a hostile work environment. Relationship problems can also stem from other factors, including death in the family, divorce and moving homes.
Financial Issues: Money is a major source of stress for many people. If you’re struggling financially, you may feel stressed about your bills, credit cards, student loans, mortgages, car payments, etc.
Academic/Work Pressure: Students face a lot of stress when trying to get through school. There are many reasons why students might experience stress, including exams, assignments, papers, tests, and grades. The principle applies for individuals in the workplace as well.
Lack of social support: Social isolation can be very stressful. People who feel lonely tend to experience higher levels of anxiety and depression.
Health Concerns: Health issues can be stressful for many reasons. Some may have chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease, while others may experience acute problems like broken bones or infections. Regardless of what type of condition you are dealing with, it can be a major source of stress.
Traumatic Events: Many traumatic events occur throughout our lives, including death in the family, divorce and moving homes. These types of events can cause us to feel stressed out and overwhelmed.
Legal Issues: Ongoing legal battles can also be a source of stress. For example, if you are facing criminal charges, you could spend months or even years fighting them. If you are facing civil suits, you might not be able to pay your bills or afford medical care.
Tips for Managing Stress in Recovery
It’s important to learn how to manage stress effectively in order to stay sober. Here are some tips to help you cope with stress:
• Learn to relax. Meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, and other relaxation techniques can help you de-stress.
• Take breaks from work. Workaholics who don’t take breaks from their jobs are likely to suffer from burnout.
• Exercise regularly. Regular exercise helps relieve stress and improves moods.
• Spend quality time with loved ones. Spending time with family and friends reduces stress levels.
• Practice gratitude. Studies have shown that people who practice gratitude are happier than those who aren’t grateful.
• Find ways to laugh. Laughter is proven to boost your immune system and reduce stress.
• Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparing yourself to others makes you feel bad about yourself. Instead, focus on your own accomplishments.
• Try new activities. New experiences can help you overcome stress and anxiety.
• Keep a journal. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you process them.
• Seek professional help. If you think you might need counseling, reach out to your social support.
Let Commitment House Help Find Peace in Addiction Recovery
Addiction isn’t just about getting high. It’s about escaping reality. And when you escape reality through addictive substances, this can often create an additional layer of stress in your life. It’s obvious that the cycle of stress and addiction cannot continue forever.
If you or a loved one are dealing with this vicious cycle, our team at The Commitment House is ready to help. With our medically-assisted withdrawal protocol, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient programs, we are able to help through every step of your journey. Our supportive community will also help provide you with support and stress management techniques to avoid risks of relapsing.
- 1The Treatment for Stress & Addiction In a Recovery Center. (2022). Retrieved from https://americanaddictioncenters.org/adult-addiction-treatment-programs/stress-and-addiction
- 2Stress: Signs, Symptoms, Management & Prevention. (2022). Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11874-stress
- 3Stress: Signs, Symptoms, Management & Prevention. (2022). Retrieved 7 July 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/11874-stress
- 4:Everything to Know About Stress: Causes, Prevention, and More. (2022). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/stress
- 5Sinha R. Chronic stress, drug use, and vulnerability to addiction. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2008 Oct;1141:105-30. doi: 10.1196/annals.1441.030. PMID: 18991954; PMCID: PMC2732004.
- 6Is Stress a Factor of Your Addiction?. (2022). Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/does-stress-cause-addiction-22256
- 7Anthenelli, R., & Grandison, L. (2012). Effects of Stress on Alcohol Consumption. Alcohol Research : Current Reviews, 34(4), 381. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860387/