The Relationship Between Stress & Addiction

Stress Scale Stress Meter at 100! - The Relationship Between Stress & Addiction

While stress is a part of life, too much of it can increase the risk of substance use disorder or addiction. This risk increases if you have poor coping skills and instead use drugs or alcohol to try and manage or alleviate stress.

Types Of Stress

There are two common types of stress: acute stress and chronic stress.

Acute Stress

Acute stress occurs over a short period of time and passes pretty quickly. This type of stress may happen after a fight with a loved one or when you’re on a deadline at work.

Chronic Stress

Chronic stress occurs over a long period of time and doesn’t go away quickly. It can occur due to poverty, discrimination, unemployment, an abusive relationship, or other long-term stressors or stressful situations.

When a stressful life event lasts a long time, the risk for addiction increases significantly.

Can Stress Cause Addiction?

While the connection between stress and addiction is well-known, the exact reason behind that connection is still being studied.

We do know that extremely stressful events and chronic exposure to stress can result in neurobiological changes just like with substance abuse.

These changes often affect the part of the central nervous system responsible for impulse control, motivation, and behavior, making it difficult to stop using substances and increasing the risk of addiction.

However, researchers note a few hypotheses about the stress-addiction connection:

Self-Medication Hypothesis

This theory states that individuals who experience chronic stress often turn to alcohol or drug use to cope with, or self-medicate, their stress.

Psychological Disorder Hypothesis

This hypothesis suggests that psychological or mental health disorders are more likely to co-occur with substance abuse issues. Additionally, those with mental health issues may also live with high levels of stress.

World Interpretation Hypothesis

This hypothesis states that the way someone interprets the world may influence how they perceive their stressors and that can make them either more or less vulnerable to substance abuse and addiction.

Alcohol & Drug Use

The use of alcohol and drugs can also be the cause of stress. It’s not always the stress that comes first. Drug and alcohol abuse can impact the ability to deal with and cope with stress. When life becomes more stressful due to substance abuse, you may use and abuse substances even more.

Risk Factors For Addiction & Stress

There are quite a few risk factors that can predispose someone to high levels of stress and an increased risk of addiction. Some of these risk factors include:

  • genetics
  • certain personality traits
  • co-occurring mental illnesses like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • amount of social support
  • early substance use
  • family history of substance abuse
  • history of trauma
  • quality of overall health

Effects Of Stress On Physical & Mental Health

Stress affects hormones like cortisol rise, and blood rushes to the muscles in your body when stress occurs. This is called the stress response.

Stress, especially chronic stress, can also damage the dopamine receptors in your brain and make it harder to feel pleasure and happiness. This can lead to mental health disorders like depression.

Stress can also lead to additional physical effects such as:

  • dry mouth
  • headaches
  • muscle tension
  • gastrointestinal issues
  • chest pains
  • increase in blood pressure
  • fatigue
  • problems sleeping

Stress-related mental effects can include:

  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • agitation
  • lack of concentration
  • problems focusing
  • depression

Signs Of Alcohol & Drug Addiction

Addiction also shows up as physical and behavioral signs and symptoms. You can look out for some of the following addictive behaviors in yourself or your loved ones:

  • obsessive thoughts/cravings for drugs
  • obtaining drugs becomes your top priority
  • disregarding the harm caused by drug abuse
  • inability to stop using drugs
  • hiding drug and/or alcohol use

Common physical signs of addiction can include:

  • enlarged or small pupils
  • sudden weight loss or gain
  • bloodshot eyes
  • insomnia
  • poor coordination
  • slurred speech

Tips For Stress Management

Learning and practicing ways to manage stress can help minimize its effects and help you get through difficult times. Some tips and coping mechanisms to deal with stress include:

  • reaching out for help: going to your support system or a support group and talking about what’s bothering you is a great way to minimize stress
  • meditation: meditation, mindfulness, and self-care can reduce stress and improve your overall well-being
  • healthy habits: eating healthy foods, exercising, and getting enough sleep are also important for handling stress levels

If you or a loved one live with addiction and chronic stress, Recovering Champions is here for you. Our outpatient addiction treatment program is customized to meet the mental health needs of each person. To learn more about our treatment center, please contact us today.

Written by
Recovering Champions Editorial Team

Published on: November 16, 2022

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This page does not provide medical advice.

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