Stress and addiction are often closely interconnected because they produce similar changes in the brain. Studies have shown that the brain changes linked with stressful experiences are also related to increased sensitivity to the effects of drugs of abuse (1). For successful long-term recovery and relapse prevention, people with substance abuse disorders can benefit from developing coping strategies and going through treatment for stress-related disorders.
People who suffer from addiction who are also dealing with stressful situations often experience increased cravings and risk of relapse. Without the proper coping strategies to deal with stress, many turn to drugs or alcohol to manage their symptoms. While it’s virtually impossible to remove all pressures from life, it’s possible to understand stress and develop coping strategies to effectively deal with stressful situations.
What is Stress?
Stress can be caused by a variety of situations. Sometimes stress is the normal experience of life, such as dealing with issues at work or handling your responsibilities, and sometimes stress is the result of unanticipated negative situations, such as the death of a loved one or loss of employment. The experience of stress varies from person to person. Normal stress can actually be beneficial, but chronic stress can result in problematic physical and mental symptoms.
How people manage stress—by reaching for a drink or a pill or by going out for a run—plays a significant role in the impact that stress has on the body and mind. For some, relying on support systems helps them cope effectively with the emotional and physical impact of stressful experiences. For others, they experience reactions to prolonged stress that lead to disruption of daily functioning, which may require professional treatment.
Stress and Substance Abuse
Stressful or traumatic events can significantly influence alcohol or drug abuse. Since stress is a common factor in the beginning or continuation of substance abuse and increases the risk of relapse, it should be addressed during addiction treatment (2).
How to Cope with Stress
Stress is a common experience in life that can’t be entirely avoided, but it’s a good idea to try to manage stress levels and reduce unnecessary stress as much as possible. Some methods for effectively coping with stress include:
- Find the best ways to cope that work for you. Reflect on what works and doesn’t work, and skip methods that don’t bring you any results.
- Take good care of physical and mental health. This includes sleeping enough, eating well and not smoking. Avoid resorting to substance abuse to relieve stress.
- Try new ways of thinking. In addiction treatment, cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches new ways of thinking and behaving that lead to more positive decisions. When worry starts to feel overwhelming, try to interrupt these thoughts with distractions like exercise or reading.
- Talk to someone you trust. Speak to a counselor, family member or friend who can listen to your concerns and allow you to work through negative feelings. Having a conversation in thoughtful and meaningful ways can help manage stress better.
- Ask for help. Stress can be better managed when people develop a strong support network of mental health professionals, family and friends. And sometimes, therapy at a high-quality treatment center is the best option for helping to restore a sense of calm and well-being to your life.