How are Stress and Addiction Related?

Stress is a normal part of life, but it’s also a risk factor for initiating substance use. Stress can also aid in the development of addiction, relapse, and treatment failure.1

According to the American Psychological Association’s 2019 Stress in America survey, more than three-quarters of adults report physical or emotional symptoms of stress, such as headache, feeling tired or changes in sleeping habits.2

As stress can fuel undesirable and unhealthy behaviors, it’s important not to turn to substances like alcohol or drugs as a means of coping.3,4 Doing so creates more severe physical and psychological issues that can only contribute to stress.

What Causes Stress?

There are several factors that can contribute to the development of stress. Some of the most common stressors we experience can include:5

  • Pressure from work, school, and personal responsibilities.
  • Sudden change or loss, such as becoming unemployed, experiencing a divorce, or losing a loved one.
  • Stress that is traumatic, such as being involved in a natural disaster, combat exposure, or any other situation that may be life-threatening.

These are just some of examples of stress-producing events. While the stress response that is produced when experiencing something stressful can be beneficial in terms of survival, it can also be detrimental to our wellbeing.6 For some, stress can continue for a short period of time, while for others, the impacts of the stressful event can linger for longer periods of time.

The two most common types of stress include:6

  • Acute stress – Acute stress, or stress that occurs for a short length of time, passes quickly. Someone experiencing acute stress may have been involved in a situation such as an argument with a loved one or hustling to meet a work deadline. Once the event is over, the stress response begins to fade rapidly.
  • Chronic stress – Unlike acute stress, chronic stress is stress that continues to present itself over a longer period of time. Common causes of chronic stress include toxic relationships, poverty, and discrimination. Chronic stress is linked to mental and physical health problems as a result of their continued presence.

Symptoms of Stress: How Stress Affects the Body

When individuals experience stress, levels of stress hormones (such as cortisol) rise and blood rushes to the muscles as the body readies its fight-or-flight biological response.3 This response can cause several physical and mental symptoms, including the following:7

Physical symptoms:

  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Chest pains
  • Fatigue
  • Problems sleeping
  • Overeating/not eating enough

Mental symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Short temper
  • Lack of concentration
  • Problems focusing
  • Forgetfulness

Depending on the situation and an individual’s own stress management skills, these symptoms can range in intensity from mild to severe and create further distressing symptoms.

Trauma and major stressors in early childhood are associated with being more vulnerable to stress, as well as being more vulnerable to substance use and addiction.3,8

There is also accumulating evidence that demonstrates that both acute stress and chronic stress increase addiction vulnerability, that is, both risk of developing addiction and risk of relapse.7

The types of adverse life events, trauma, chronic stressors and individual circumstances that are predictive of individual risk include:9

  • Loss of a parent.
  • Parental divorce and conflict.
  • Isolation and abandonment.
  • Loss of a child by death or removal.
  • Unfaithfulness of significant other.
  • Loss of home to natural disaster.
  • Death of significant other/close family member.
  • Victim of shooting or other violent acts.
  • Observing violent victimization.
  • Physical neglect.
  • Physical abuse by parent, caretaker, family member, spouse or significant other.
  • Sexual abuse.

A survey of more than 500 men showed that alcohol dependence was very closely related to stress in an individual’s life.10 These stressors ranged from severe stressors, such as the death of a loved one, to chronic stressors related to work environment.10 It’s also been noted that women with a family history of alcohol dependence and/or co-occurring anxiety disorders are at a greater risk for alcohol dependence, and they often partake in stress-related drinking and experience a greater effect than women without the predisposition for addiction.10

Healthy Ways to Deal with Stress

Many individuals find they can manage stress without turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drugs or alcohol. In fact, there are many evidence-based tools that are practical and easy-to-implement ways that can help a person combat the negative effects of stress in healthy ways:

  • Enlist social support by reaching out to friends and family members.11
  • Relax your muscles and meditate.12
  • Maintain a consistent sleep routine that accommodates time to wind down.13
  • Move your body during the day and avoid caffeine and alcohol in the late afternoon and evenings.14
  • Get outside and enjoy nature.15
  • Laugh.16
  • Change your way of thinking about a stressor, and if you need more help, seek out a therapist.17

When Coping Skills Aren’t Enough: Treatment For Your Stress and Addiction

If you are experiencing a combination of both stress and addiction, know that there is professional help available to you. By seeking care from a professional, you can address both your addiction and your stress in a manner most appropriate for your needs. At Greenhouse Treatment Center, we offer a different levels of addiction treatment that include inpatient drug and alcohol rehab, outpatient addiction rehab, and a sober living home in Arlington. We help you build a strong foundation in recovery with the use of evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and family therapy. Call our rehab admissions navigators to have your questions answered at .

Paying For Your Stress and Addiction Treatment

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance misuse or addiction, reach out to our drug and alcohol rehab in Grand Prairie, TX right now. Not only can we provide you with further information, but we can also help you determine how to pay for addiction treatment and helo you to use health insurance to cover rehab. You can get started right now by filling out our secure online .

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