Stress and Addiction: Is There A Connection?

We all experience stress at some point in our lives. However, when things get out of hand, stressful events may be a potential trigger to substance use. Is there really a link between stress and addiction? Read to know more.

Stress is one risk that appears common to us all. Meeting deadlines, fulfilling responsibilities and our daily dealings with others can take a toll with our minds and bodies.

What are common stress factors in life?

Stress can be categorized into two kinds–the types which can be managed well, and those which may cause harm. These two categories also depend on how a person responds to stress factors. The common sources of stress for most people include the following:

  •  Loss of a loved one: The death of a loved one can be unexpected. Thus, the process of grieving and the adjustments needed to cope with the loss may bring high levels of stress.
  • Divorce or separation: Although quite different from death of a loved one, divorce or separation is also considered a loss. The divorce proceedings, child custody battles, and other issues related to the dissolution of marriage can additionally bring grief.
  • Work-related stress: Work is a common dilemma for many. A substantial amount of people are stressed by meeting deadlines or being unhappy with their careers.
  • Health: If you have a chronic illness, such as an ongoing battle with cancer, heart problems, or even a disability, the complications and psychological effects of being with this condition can also bring stress.
  • Relationship problems: Aside from separation and divorce, other relationship problems with family, friends or co-workers can bring enormous amounts of stress. This is especially relevant when relationship problems arise between close-knit loved ones.

With these stress factors occurring in people’s lives, it is important to adopt a healthy lifestyle in order to manage these problems with a stride. For some, it can be a difficult process dealing with such stress factors that it may cause unhealthy ways of coping, such as having addictions.

Stress and addiction: How are they related?

As previously mentioned, high levels of stress can cause a person to cope in unhealthy ways. In a biological framework, the body’s stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine levels increase, leading the person to find strategies for relief.

Although there are many healthy ways to find relief such as meditation, exercise or immersing in art, others find themselves in stress and drug abuse. A person may find himself using drugs to cope with stress. The quick effects that illicit substances can bring cause repeated use and a growing addiction.

Stress and substance use disorder may go hand-in-hand for people who have mental health issues. Mental health problems such as depression or anxiety causes atypical reactions to stress, which can push one to self-medicate in order to find relief. People with mental health disorders may be more at risk in being addicted to stress prescription drugs especially if they are provided by the doctor for pain relief, sleep disturbances, or mood stabilizers.

Stress and alcohol abuse are additionally common with men. In a study, men are twice as likely to suffer from alcoholism compared to women, which may be rooted to stress factors in life. The study adds that men’s brains are more sensitive with alcohol-induced dopamine release, such as it results to increased chances of consuming alcohol.

In summary, a person who is at risk for stress-related substance use disorder may have the following traits:

  • Experiencing high levels of stress
  • Diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health issues
  • Susceptibility to effects of substances such as alcohol or drugs

Now that we have understood the connection between stress and addiction, what are some ways to treat substance use disorders that are related to stress?

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Ways to treat stress and addiction

If you or a loved one is suffering from high amounts of stress coupled with an addiction, know that you are not alone. At Sunshine Behavioral Health, we have clients who experienced recovery from stress addiction. It is important to address both the source of stress and the substance use disorder in order to experience a successful recovery. Without treating the root cause of the problem, stress and relapse could occur and addiction issues could still persist.

The following are steps that you can take to manage stress and addiction:

Identify the source of stress.

Sometimes, you may feel anxious or sad about things in your life which may not appear specific. It could help to sit down and consider the source of stress in your life. It could be the way you respond to a major life change, a difficult work situation, or a hanging relationship problem. By simply being self-aware about the sources of stress in your life, you can acknowledge your circumstance and decide to take a proactive approach.

Find healthy ways to cope with stress.

After identifying the sources of stress, it is best to find healthy ways of coping. Some of the effective ways to cope with stress include the following:

  • Meditation: Spending quiet time by yourself in nature, in a patio, or alone in your room helps to clear your mind of clutter and provide you with the focus you need to start your day.
  • Exercise: Physical activity helps decrease stress hormones in your body and in turn release ‘happy’ hormones such as endorphins.
  • Diet: A diet consisting of whole foods rich with nutrients is also a key factor in reducing stress. Try to avoid junk food, highly processed sugar, and trans fats for a healthier lifestyle.
  • Hobbies: There are many hobbies you can take on to cope with stress. Others enjoy immersing themselves in art such as painting, writing, or listening to music. Recreational activities also trigger the release of happy hormones in the body.

Undergo a rehabilitation program.

After pinpointing and managing your sources of stress, undergoing a rehabilitation program to address your substance use can help. At Sunshine Behavioral Health, we offer custom-fit programs which help target the factors which may have led to an addiction. Below are the steps that you can expect when you undergo a rehab program:

  • Assessment: The first step in treating stress and addiction is having a complete physical and psychological assessment. In this process, the client undergoes lab work, scans, and psychiatric testing in order to have a working diagnosis. This stage additionally determines whether the client has taken stress relievers drugs or stress reduction drugs which could have led to addictions.
  • Drug detox: After the assessment, the client will undergo a drug detox to eliminate the body’s dependence on stress drug, alcohol, or other illicit substances. This is a short-term but intensive process which is considered the first stage of treatment. Withdrawal symptoms are safely managed using various methods such as regulated medications, hospitalization, or providing nutrition.
  • Treatment options: The second stage of treatment includes various ways to manage stress, which are recommended by a physician during the assessment. These can include evidence-based therapies, counseling, or holistic procedures to help battle stress and substance use disorders simultaneously.
  • Aftercare: Having an aftercare program is necessary to prevent addiction relapse. You may still undergo one-to-one counseling sessions or visit support groups for accountability.

The great thing about undergoing a rehabilitation program is that professionals can additionally help you in dealing with the factors that cause addictions. Sunshine Behavioral Health offers programs which emphasize stress management. By doing this, they are increasing the chances that you can recover from substance use disorder while finding healthy ways to cope with stress.

Stress and addiction should not keep you in bondage. You can start a healthier life today by setting yourself free from stress and substance use. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us and we can help you take your first step towards recovery.

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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