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The Relationship Between Stress and Addiction

The Relationship Between Stress and Addiction

The Relationship Between Stress and Addiction

Life can be stressful — work, relationships, school, bills, traumatic experiences, the COVID pandemic, you name it — everyone will experience some form of stress at some point.

When stress gets bad enough it encourages people to seek relief, and as you may have guessed, drugs and alcohol are vehicles that people employ to soothe and relieve it.

The relationship between stress and addiction is one that has been well documented, identifying stress as a motivator for the development of addiction and a cause for addicts to relapse.

What Is Stress?

To better understand the relationship between stress and addiction we need to start at the beginning – asking ourselves an appropriate question – what actually is stress?

According to The National Library of Medicine, stress is defined as the processes involving perception, appraisal, and response to harmful, threatening, or challenging events or stimuli. Stress can be experienced both physiologically, meaning we can see its effects in our body, and psychologically, affecting our emotions.

Stress can be mild and reference common life pressures like having a stressful job; however, it can also be traumatic and rooted in overwhelming experiences like the death of a loved one. This idea can be better observed in the two most common types of stress:

  • Acute stress: This type of stress is usually caused by a traumatic overwhelming event and tends to last for less than a month. Acute stress becomes a PTSD diagnosis if it lasts longer than 30 days.
  • Chronic stress: Unlike acute stress, this type of stress is not characterized by an event but rather by constant pressure and feelings of being overwhelmed over a long period of time.

How Are Stress and Addiction Connected

If we examine the relationship between stress and addiction, it doesn’t take much digging to see how one is related to the other.

It usually goes that a person gets stressed and overwhelmed, the need for relief arises, drugs and alcohol act as depressants and pain relievers, the person takes a drink or a drug, and voilà — the pain is gone, just like that.

Addiction is a complex disease, and the exact cause of it is yet to be determined; however, the links between addicts that have previously suffered from trauma or stress are evident.

Scientists have learned that there are behavioral and neurobiological correlations as well as evidence of cellular changes associated with chronic stress and addiction.

Traumatic experiences during childhood have also shown a direct correlation between stress and addiction.

Common traumatic experiences associated with drug abuse include:

  • Loss of a parent
  • Parental divorce
  • Low parental support
  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional neglect
  • Isolation

Stress and Addiction Recovery

Drugs and alcohol may give users the perception of relief and relaxation; however, they are actually doing the opposite as they interfere with the body’s ability to cope with stress on its own, leading users down the rabbit hole of addiction and raising their stress levels as tolerance develops.

The treatment of stress and addiction go hand in hand. Co-occurring disorders are treated in conjunction, as it doesn’t help to treat one without the other. Patients who want to reduce the risk of addiction and relapse will also need to work on their stress management.

There are both healthy and unhealthy ways to cope with stress.

Healthy ways to cope with stress include:

  • Keeping a journal
  • Meditating
  • Exercising 
  • Eating healthy hearty meals
  • Maintaining healthy sleep habits
  • Avoiding drinking excess caffeine
  • Learning to identify negative thoughts and challenge them
  • Maintaining healthy relationships

Unhealthy ways to cope with stress include:

  • Substance abuse
  • Self-criticism
  • Harming habits such as biting your nails
  • Overexercising
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Taking it out on others
  • Smoking cigarettes

Getting Help

If you or a loved one is having difficulties coping with stress and addiction, then it’s time to get help!

Ava Recovery is a luxury rehab located in Buda, Texas – right outside of Austin. Ava offers a world-class luxury experience at their evidence-based, drug and alcohol rehab facility. Ava Recovery is a luxury stress and addiction recovery center with expertise in treating dual-diagnosis patients.

Contact Ava to speak to a specialist and find the treatment that’s best suited for you or your loved ones.

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