stress and addiction

Stress is one thing that each individual has in common. We all have something that causes stress in our life; work, family, and money are all everyday stressors. While stress seems to be a part of daily life, studies show that stress can have adverse effects on the way a brain functions. For some people, drugs and alcohol are a way to cope with the stress in life. They may then find themselves struggling with stress and addiction.

Using drugs and alcohol may make you feel better at the moment, but, over time, it can lead to more stress. The use of substances to cope with stress is not only unhealthy but can lead to addiction. Stress-induced addiction requires treatment that specializes in dual diagnosis treatment. 

It is crucial to build healthy coping skills for stress management while in treatment for addiction. Just because you enter an addiction treatment program does not mean that stress simply disappears. If you do not learn to cope with stress in a healthy manner, it can quickly lead to relapse. 

Physical and Psychological Effects of Stress

The impact of stress may be affecting your health without you even realizing it. Stress can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. People may attribute their headaches, insomnia, and lack of productivity to sickness when it is actually stress causing all their health issues. 

Stress affects how you feel both physically and mentally. When we are stressed out, our behaviors can become erratic and irrational. But when we understand how stress affects the way we feel and behave, we can build healthy coping skills.

Stress can affect a person’s mood and cause:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression
  • Lack of focus or motivation

Stress can physically affect the way you feel by causing:

  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Stomach issues
  • Sleep problems
  • Change in sex drive
  • Muscle tension/pain

Stress affects your behavior by causing:

  • Angry outbursts
  • Substance abuse
  • Smoking tobacco
  • Change is eating
  • Social withdrawal
  • Less exercise

When stress continues without treatment, it can lead to addiction and severe mental health conditions. 

The Relationship Between Stress and Addiction

Stress is an inevitable occurrence in daily life. A child gets sick. A work project is behind schedule. There isn’t enough money for the bills. All of these things are out of our control and cause stress. If a person does not have healthy coping skills, all the stress can become too much and lead to addiction.

Stress can initiate an addiction, continue an addiction, cause treatment to fail, and even lead to relapse. It can influence the risk of addiction by increasing the impulses to self-medicate. Unfortunately, we cannot remove all the stress from our lives, so it is imperative to start building healthy ways to cope with stress. 

A Deeper Look at Stress

The truth of the matter is that stress affects each individual differently, so it can be difficult to define scientifically. Researcher Hans Selye is responsible for the conventional notions of stress. He defines stress as a nonspecific response to the demand for change. He also explains three potential stages that describe the psychological changes a body goes through when under stress. These stages are called General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). Understanding these stages can be helpful when understanding addiction. 

These stages include:

  • Alarm – This is the “fight or flight” stage of stress. Hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released, and the body has now mobilized.
  • Resistance – The body remains on red alert. Hormones are still flowing. The heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing are increasing.
  • Exhaustion – The body gets tired of fighting and gives in. This leaves a person susceptible to addiction, mental, and physical disorders.

Since it is impossible to eliminate stress from your life, it is vital to find ways to cope with stress. Knowing the signs of stress can help you manage your stress levels hence lowering the risk factors. 

Addiction is a severe risk of chronic stress. Evidence shows that a person is vulnerable to developing substance use disorder (SUD) when they have experienced:

  • Abuse – physical, emotional, or sexual
  • Stressful life event – divorce, death, etc.
  • Mood and anxiety disorder

Stress can lead to addiction, but addiction can also bring on stress. Certain drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, and alcohol activate the reward pathway and the stress pathways. 

Stress and Addiction: Dual Diagnosis

When stress goes unchecked, it can lead to more severe issues. Stress specifically is not an illness but can lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, and PTSD. The more researchers learn about stress, the more they learn the mental health impact stress has on a person. 

Mental health disorders and substance use disorders often co-occur. This is what many professionals refer to as a dual diagnosis. About 45% of Americans suffer from co-occurring disorders. Stress is a huge factor in mental and substance use disorders. It can lead individuals to use the following substances to handle the symptoms of stress. 

Individuals who turn to drugs and alcohol to handle the effects of stress can develop a variety of mood and personality disorders. These can include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

If chronic stress continues alongside an addiction, it can lead to multiple mental health disorders, further complicating recovery.

Handling Stress Without Turning to Drugs and Alcohol

One challenge of recovery is finding healthy ways to handle stress. Stress never goes away; all we can do is build the skills to cope and stay sober. The process of sobriety is stressful in itself with all the new challenges and changes. 

It can be stressful to learn a new way of being, learning new ways to cope with situations and feelings, and facing the reality of your behaviors while under the influence. All of this can be overwhelming and challenging, but can also show you how strong you are. Therapy sessions can help relieve some of the stress and help you build the coping skills to stay sober. 

It is essential to build a healthy list of activities to help deal with the stressors in life. The following tips can help you manage both the stressors in life and your sobriety because a lifetime of sobriety is your most important goal.

10 Tips To Manage Stress in Recovery

1. Breathing 

The quickest way to gain control of any stressful situation is to focus on your breathing. Deep breathing slows down the “flight or fight” response and starts to slow down your nervous system.

A few deep breaths before responding to a person or situation can also drastically change your response. Not only can breathing help with stress, but the increase of oxygen flowing through your body also has excellent health benefits.

2. Attitude of Gratitude

It is vital to your recovery always to be grateful. A daily practice of gratitude can reduce stress and increase your overall wellbeing. In the morning, write down a few things you are grateful for. 

During the day, when things can get stressful, read the list as a reminder. Before bed, add to the list. What happened during the day that made you feel grateful. You will start to notice a difference in your outlook almost immediately.

3. Sleep

Sleep is extremely vital to your mental and physical wellbeing. Without a proper amount of sleep, everything is harder. This creates a cycle of insomnia and stress. It’s often challenging to sleep well during the beginning stages of treatment. So it is crucial to create an evening routine that is calming and relaxing to promote a good night’s sleep.

4. Meditation

Meditation is a simple technique that can help control stress, control cravings, and improve overall health. A 2-minute meditation once an hour can help you refocus your energy and attention to your recovery. Meditation in the evening is an excellent addition to your evening routine.

5. Yoga

Yoga has been a long time go-to for stress relief. It combines breathing and body movements to relax the mind and body. While practicing yoga, you are breathing out the old you who was stressed out and battling addiction. And you breathe in the new you, the person who is sober and confident and able to cope with the stressors in life.

6. Exercise

This is a powerful tool to help improve your mood while reducing the effects of stress on a body. Exercise can include many different types, including:

  • Walking/running/hiking
  • Lifting weights
  • Bike riding
  • Swimming
  • Dancing
  • Yoga

7. Connect With Nature

Remember how stress-free life was as a child lying in the grass looking at the clouds? Birds chirping, the breeze blowing? As adults, this is still a way to escape the stress in life. Sit under a tree, close your eyes, and just listen. Let Mother Nature carry away your stress. Fresh air and sunshine—what better way is there to de-stress?

8. Eat healthily

When we do not eat right, our stress levels increase. We get “hangry” and act out and can become irrational. That behavior can become very stressful and cause you to relapse. Finding new recipes and cooking with others relieves stress, builds bonds, and increases your overall health. 

9. Be Creative

Find your creative side! You may not believe it, but we all have a creative side. Maybe you can draw or paint. Perhaps you compose beautiful music or dance routines. Maybe your passion is taking pictures of animals and the beach. Whatever you were once passionate about, find it. Addiction stole it away from you, and now it is time to take it back. Creativity is a great way to combat substance cravings and the stress of recovery.

10. Self-Care

The most important thing you can do for yourself besides staying sober is self-care. Self-care can be anything that makes you feel good and makes your soul happy. For some, it could be a long bubble bath, getting a hair cut, or writing in their journal.

Every moment in recovery is focused on you and making you happier, healthier, and sober. It is ok if you do not remember everything that made you truly happy before your addiction. Now is the time to discover all the new amazing things about yourself!

Stress and Addiction Recovery at Coastal Detox

Fighting addiction and a co-occurring stress disorder can feel like a losing battle. Having emotional support is as essential as all other treatment aspects. Our staff here at Coastal Detox is waiting with caring hands and a variety of services to help you Sail Through Recovery.

If you or a loved one is fighting addiction and a co-occurring disorder Coastal Detox can help. Contact us today. We are waiting to answer all your questions and help you get started on the path to recovery.