The Truth About the Stress and Addiction Relationship

Blue sign tells us stress doesn't have to result in addiction.
The choice is yours but you should know: Stress doesn't have to result in addiction.

Stress is part of being human. However, chronic stress is a hidden danger because it frequently co-occurs with addiction. It also plays a major role in relapse for those who are in recovery. Therefore treatment modalities pay so much attention to techniques that help patients cope with stress.

How Stress Affects Your Mind and Body

Stress affects your entire body. At these times your body releases cortisol and adrenaline (stress chemicals) that result in your body’s “fight or flight” response. Once the stress is over, these hormone levels return to normal. However, in situations of prolonged stress, they continually circulate in your bloodstream, impacting both your physical and mental health. These effects may include issues with your immune, reproductive, sleep, and digestive systems as well as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression. Over the long-term, your brain will start changing the way it functions, especially regarding impulse control, motivation, and your ability to cope with stress.

A quote about stress and addiction by Jon Kabaat-Linn
Decisions about stress and addiction are up to you to make.

The Relationship Between Stress and Drug Addiction

Researchers have discovered a significant association between stress and addiction. This is because people turn to drugs and alcohol when they’re looking for a coping mechanism to help them through a stressful time. These substances change your brain’s reward, learning, and stress pathways, which not only results in compulsive drug use but can also intensify your cravings. This is especially true for those who’ve experienced trauma (e.g., neglect, abuse) throughout childhood.

While you may initially find that these substances seem to reduce the amount of stress you feel and help you feel more relaxed, you should know that you’re playing with fire. These are referred to as “unhealthy coping mechanisms” for a reason. These substances interfere with your body’s ability to effectively manage stress. Eventually, this results in such heavy abuse of drugs and alcohol to where you become addicted. 

A sign saying Stress vs. Addiction the choice is yours.
Nobody can make the choice for you.

This is one reason why it’s so important to lower stress and find healthy coping mechanisms. When you take steps to actively reduce your stress level, you’re also lowering your risk of becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol. If you’re already in stress and addiction recovery, this is especially important because it can help prevent a relapse.

Getting the Help You Need

Treatment for your addiction will also include teaching you skills and strategies to help you deal with stress (e.g., deep breathing, meditation. All of this is great, but if you don’t have a good support system in place they can only go so far. This is because, as humans, we’re not meant to survive on our own. We thrive in relationships. If you don’t have this type of support system in place, I want you to know that I’m here for you. As an addiction recovery coach, I’ll talk to you about your stressors and help you find healthy coping mechanisms so you can remain on a straight path to recovery.