The Connection Between Stress and Addiction

There is absolutely no escaping stress. Every single person on the planet is going to experience stress at some point in their lives no matter how much they try to avoid it. Unfortunately, stress is just a part of life, and for some, there is a huge connection between stress and addiction. Knowing that stress can produce negative impacts often leads people to finding ways to cope with it effectively. For example, some people focus on actively reducing the stressors in their lives while others work to better equip themselves with skills. Some people do both. However, we are all only human, which means that even if we are the most prepared to fight back against stress, we will experience it and sometimes get caught up in it. Hopefully, when that happens, we can bounce back quickly with minimal to no battle scars. 

For many people, however, managing stress is not as simple as taking a few deep breaths and working some self-care time into their day. Some people face major, recurrent stressors while others struggle to find ways to handle stress when it is happening, even if it is minor. When something stressful occurs, that combination of adrenaline, feeling overwhelmed, and getting anxious is a result of a naturally-occurring physiological process. Stress is best defined as what happens when the body reacts to any change that requires an adjustment or response. These reactions can occur physically, mentally, and/or emotionally. If stress is not properly managed, it can become distressing to the point that people turn to outside sources to get relief. In many cases, that outside source is substance abuse, which can quickly become full-blown addiction.

Effects of Stress

Some of the most common stressors people face include getting married/divorced, moving, emotional problems, loss of a loved one, work, and even the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Depending on how serious the stressor is, how frequently it occurs, and the current state of one’s health, a person’s response can range from manageable to completely uncontrollable. 

Stress has the potential to produce a wide variety of negative effects that can hamper a person’s ability to move forward in a healthy manner. The effects can also eat away at a person’s emotional and physical resiliency, making them more susceptible to looking for an easy fix to how they are feeling. Some of the effects of stress can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Chronic headaches
  • Chronic stomach aches
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Weakened immune system
  • High blood pressure
  • Low libido
  • Fertility problems
  • High blood sugar
  • Increased risk for heart attack

Taking a look at just some of the effects stress can cause can show just how easy it is for someone who is experiencing stress to start abusing drugs or alcohol. 

Stress and Addiction

So, what is the connection between stress and addiction? The physical, mental, and emotional responses to stress can weaken one’s reserve dramatically enough that the pain and pressure become too much to bear. 

Physical responses 

Physical responses to stress, such as headaches, stomach aches, exhaustion, etc. can quickly catch up to a person. Being in actual physical pain on a regular basis can feel so uncomfortably repetitive that individuals might take it upon themselves to self-medicate that pain through drug or alcohol use. What might begin as minor substance abuse can escalate to addiction fairly fast, especially if the pain that a person has been feeling is being numbed by their use. The more that mind-altering substances work to improve the pain that is being felt, the more that a person is likely to keep going that route to obtain relief. 

Mental responses 

Mental health problems and dual diagnosis disorders are nothing to scoff at. Illnesses like depression and anxiety produce serious symptoms that completely interfere with a person’s everyday life. If the mental illness goes untreated, more symptoms will develop and the quality of that person’s life will begin to deteriorate. It is not shocking that roughly 50% of all people with substance use disorder also have a co-occurring mental health problem, as utilizing drugs and/or alcohol to calm the symptoms of mental illness is beyond common. Having a mental illness can make reaching out for the right help extremely difficult and can discourage people from acknowledging that they have a problem, which is one of the main reasons why addiction develops in many of those who do not have control of their mental illness.

Emotional responses

People naturally act on their emotions before sitting down and processing it. When someone is angry, chances are they are going to display that anger in one way or another. If someone is happy, they are likely not going to hide the smile on their face. That is because humans are highly emotional beings. So when stress is occurring, we instinctively try to get relief as fast as we can. There is nothing faster than downing a few drinks, snorting some drugs, or putting a needle in the arm. As stress continues to trigger emotional responses, a person might not have enough grit and wherewithal to pull through their pain to get to the other side. Instead, getting drunk or high can take the pain away.

Dangers of Stress

There is no doubt that stress is one of the most prominent risk factors for addiction. If a person is not equipped with the appropriate coping skills to manage stress at all different levels, they can begin to feel overcome with mental, physical, and/or emotional effects that they struggle to get through independently. Not only does stress dramatically increase one’s risk of abusing drugs and alcohol and developing a drug addiction as a result, but it also compromises all areas of one’s life. Some examples include:

  • Becoming socially withdrawn
  • Detaching from friends, family, and loved ones
  • Falling behind at work and potentially being demoted or fired
  • Eating poorly, not getting enough rest, and not exercising
  • Experiencing more severe symptoms of a current mental health condition or developing symptoms of a new mental health condition

While stress is not avoidable, it can be managed so that people do not turn to the use of drugs and/or alcohol to cope and continue to self-medicate.

Addiction Treatment in Palm Springs, CA

If you are struggling with a substance use disorder, reach out to us right now. We understand the challenges you are going through because of your substance use disorder. We also know that you have several underlying factors regarding how your substance use disorder got to the point it is today. Allow us to help you by calling CA Behavioral Health right now.

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