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Stress & Addiction: Understanding the Correlation



Stress and addiction can have direct relationships with each other while still manifesting in unique ways. Some people can experience stress due to substance use disorders, while others with stress and anxiety disorders can turn to substances for relief. No matter how you get to this point, seeking help for your stress and addiction might be the only way to get better.


While we might not enjoy it, stress is a very common and normal thing to experience. Feeling stressed out isn’t inherently bad; it just might be a bit annoying to have to deal with. However, once we let the stress overcome us and let it develop into both mental and physical health-related issues, we can see more of the negative consequences that come with it.


For those who struggle with addiction, stress may become a part of their daily life in a very negative way. To better understand the correlation between stress and addiction, keep reading!


Stress and Addiction Defined

Stress shows up and impacts all people differently. Some people might have high levels of stress because of their job, health, home life, or stressful life events, but no matter what, being stressed for extended periods can be bad for your overall health and well-being.


A stress response can be defined as the body’s response to a change (stressor) that causes physical, emotional, or psychological strain on a person. These stressors cause our brain to release cortisol (the stress hormone), which drives our fight-or-flight response. Not to mention raising our blood pressure and putting our nervous systems under intense pressure.


Addiction is a complex chronic medical disorder that happens when a person compulsively uses substances or engages in behaviors that have harmful consequences. Addiction is treatable, but many people suffer in silence before seeking help.


No one chooses to have an addiction, though many people without them assume this is true. Many factors, such as genetics, environment, and mental health, play into whether or not someone can form an addiction to something.


What you often see in cases of substance use disorder and behavioral addiction is that stress plays a major role in continuing that addiction.


How Does Stress Relate to Addiction?

While stress can’t be the only factor that leads a person to an addiction, it can be one of them. Chronic stress might be a contributing risk factor to your developing a substance use disorder later in life, so understanding what could come from your elevated stress levels can help you try to minimize them.


In a non-harmful way, acute stress has helped people become more tuned into their surroundings to help protect them from danger. A little stress from time to time isn’t going to be bad for you. It can help to keep you alert and aware of what’s happening around you. When you begin to experience abnormal amounts of stress, stress causes unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Chronic stress affects both your mental and physical health. For some people that deal with chronic stress, turning to self-medication with alcohol, drugs, or other addictive behaviors seemingly minimizes their stress levels. In this way, stress can be a contributor to your risk of addiction simply because you need a way to feel better quicker.


If you can get a rush of dopamine from these compulsive behaviors, you can trick your brain into thinking they support true stress management. But, this can begin a real cycle of cravings and unhealthy coping skills — this can be the start of the development of addiction.


How Can Addiction Impact Stress?

When you have an addiction, it can be impossible to control your urges or make good decisions for your health. You are stuck in a cycle of hurting yourself.


Having issues with addiction or substances can contribute to high stress in a person. There is guilt and shame that come from suffering from addiction. People find it hard to reach out and ask for help, making recovery more difficult.


When we use substances like drugs and alcohol, they affect how we can manage the effects of stress. Prolonged use of substances directly impacts how our brain functions, including the parts of the brain that work with impulse control, motivation, and behavior.


The impact that drug and alcohol abuse has on people’s finances, jobs, education, families, friendships, loved ones, and psychological health can produce large amounts of stress.


Additionally, people trying to get over their addictions can often notice a rise in their stress levels. Trying to cope with the lack of substances in your system can be painful and dangerous, making it a very stressful situation to endure.


What Links Stress and Addiction Recovery?

When entering addiction recovery or treatment, it can be scary to think about how your life will change. Eliminating substances from your life is no easy task, especially when you rely on them to function every day.


Substances usually fill the body with dopamine which makes a person feel good. When they stop using drugs, there is an apparent lack of dopamine.


This lack of dopamine can cause stress levels to rise as your body tries to cope with the fact that it’s not getting what it needs to function. Addiction recovery is difficult as it is, but now with heightened levels of stress and no substances to turn to, you have to come up with new ways to cope.


Coping Mechanisms for Stress and Addiction

Coping mechanisms for stress and addiction often play off of each other. A coping mechanism for stress might be substance abuse, whereas trying to figure out healthy coping mechanisms for alcohol use and drug abuse can incite even more stress.


Trying to find a balance is not always easy, but treating both at the same time is the only real way to see progress. The best way to seek help for stress and addiction is to determine which coping methods work best to lower your stress. If you can work on limiting your stress, you can also work towards eliminating drug use as an unhealthy coping mechanism.


Managing Stress While Experiencing Addiction

Learning how to manage your stress can help you in more ways than one. You will live a happier and healthier life if you are not plagued by constant worry or fear.


If you are experiencing low levels of stress in normal situations, you might not need to worry as much about your stress levels. However, someone with overwhelming feelings of stress towards things that are out of their control is more likely to struggle.


There are some healthy coping mechanisms that you can try to lower your stress levels and make them more manageable. What will hopefully come from this is a healthier way to fight back against alcohol and drug addiction where you actually see the benefits.


Some tips for managing your stress in relation to addiction are:

  • Practice meditation and mindfulness. Learning to control your breathing in high-stress situations can help you regulate your emotions better. It can also help you to become more aware of your feelings and thoughts. You can ask yourself why you are stressed out and how you can make the situation less stressful.

  • Feed yourself nutritional meals. Stress can be hard to deal with when you are not nourishing yourself. Eating a well-balanced meal multiple times a day can keep your body at a healthy functioning level. You will be better equipped to handle your stress when well-fed.

  • Exercise when you feel stressed. Exercise is a great way to relieve yourself of stress. When you are stressed and looking to burn off steam, the best thing you can do for yourself is to move your body. Choosing exercise over substances will benefit your health in the long run.

  • Spend time outdoors. Fresh air, sunshine, and the ambiance of nature all work together to lower stress levels and increase your general mood. Grab your bike and go for a ride, spend time on a nice nature trail, or find a body of water and simply sit by it.

  • Seek out community. When battling addiction recovery and your stress, finding a community that can support and understand you makes the process easier — whether in an addiction treatment program or online. With apps like Sober Sidekick, finding support from a sober community or support group can change the trajectory of your recovery. Download it today and learn about other coping mechanisms people use to combat their own stress and addiction!

And, of course, finding a dedicated mental health therapist to support you through stressful times can be helpful. Behavioral therapy can be incredibly helpful in rewiring your brain to seek out healthy coping mechanisms in times of stress.


Find Help With Sober Sidekick

When stress and addiction connect, the recovery process can feel more challenging. But there is hope. By seeking out community, learning healthy coping mechanisms, and staying present with yourself, you can beat this.


Download today on Android or iPhone to see what being around a community of people who are seeking healthier forms of help to get them through their dark times.


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