The Links Between Stress and Addiction You Need To Know
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Addiction and Stress

In 2018, the American Psychological Association reported that 62 percent of Americans named politics as a significant source of stress. Reading the news, listening to debates on the radio, and engaging in conversation with colleagues could all trigger that stress, making it very hard to escape.

How did they deal with that stress?

For about half of Americans, volunteering was the answer. They sought out organizations working to create the country they wanted to live in. Then, they donated their time and talents to help that organization do its work.

When we’re under pressure, we should seek out solutions. Unfortunately, some of us look for answers at the bottom of a pill bottle or wine glass.

When stress and addiction combine, the results are dangerous. But there are several programs that can help you to break the connection and move on to a healthier life.

woman public speaking

Stress Is Part of Life

Some events call for stress. In fact, we can handle some things better when we feel a little spark of tension. But when discomfort lingers long after the event is over, that’s where real problems start.

Most people find these events stressful:

  • Public speaking: Standing up in front of a group to give a speech, even if you’ve rehearsed it, can rattle your nerves.
  • Job interviews: You need a salary to pay your bills, and this one conversation could ruin your chances.
  • First dates: You’ve seen the love of your life. Can you keep the spark going through a full evening of meals and conversation?
  • Health crises: You’re not feeling well, or you’re caring for someone you love. Illness and appointments bleed together into a stew of stress.

Stress can happen to anyone, of any age. And it’s relatively common. According to a study cited by AARP, about a quarter of people older than 50 experienced a large amount of stress per month.

When we’re dropped into these events, our bodies prepare for action. Our pulses race, our body is pumped full of chemicals, and we’re ready to react quickly. Our senses are sharp, and our muscles are primed.

This is crucial in helping us to overcome some stressful situations. That surge could help us to steer a car over an icy road, for example, while we might slip off the embankment if we felt calm or sleepy.

But when stress persists when the original trigger is gone or when the trigger simply won’t go away, it can lead to significant problems in our physical and mental health.

brain

Ongoing Stress Is Damaging

Stress isn’t just in your mind. It’s also in your body, and the way your cells respond to the pressure can lead to illnesses you can’t ignore.

When the brain senses danger, says Mayo Clinic, it asks the body to release two important hormones:

  • Adrenaline to boost your heart rate and blood pressure
  • Cortisol to increase blood sugars, speed cell repair, and slow digestion

It’s these two hormones that help us feel different when we’re under stress. They’re changing the way our bodies work at the cellular level even if we don’t want to be altered that way.

If the hormones persist, they can boost your risk of a variety of health problems, including:

  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Insomnia
  • Memory loss
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Chronic pain

Researchers think that the link between illness and stress comes from inflammation.

Cells swell with blood and fluids when they’re injured, and that helps to keep them from moving while supporting them with nutrition. Research from Carnegie Mellon University suggests that long-term stress suppresses the body’s ability to regulate inflammation. Tissues swell up, and they don’t shrink back down again.

addiction withdrawal

Stress and Addiction Are Linked

Chronic stress doesn’t just change your body. It can also change the way your mind works. Some of those shifts can make you vulnerable to the power of drugs and alcohol.

Researchers say that stressful events in childhood, such as sexual trauma or abandonment, can lead to significant stress, and that leads to lower self-control skills in adulthood. Someone like this is more likely to abuse drugs in dangerous ways that lead to addiction.

For example, someone without a history of trauma might have a shot of alcohol after a tough day. Someone with a troubled past might drink a bottle instead.

Ongoing stress in adulthood can also change brain chemistry, and that can result in lowered self-control. The chemistry is complicated, researchers say, and it involves some chemicals rising while others are blocked. But the result is easy to understand: A person under extreme stress is physically incapable of making good decisions consistently. A person like this has a lack of ongoing self-control, and that can lead to experimentation and continuous dangerous drug use.

Abusive substances can also just seem like really good, temporary solutions. A few martinis could calm your speeding heart, and the dopamine pumping from your brain can make you feel a sense of control that’s eluded you all day. Downing pain pills can blunt the activity in your mind, so you’re less likely to examine your mistakes from every angle.

man looking out window

How Treatment Works

You probably know that addictive substances can’t help to solve your stress concerns. When you’re sober again, your problems are still waiting for you. Therapy is different. Here, you can get to the roots of your stress. When you do, you can do more than just cope with the pain. You can work to overcome it.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one form of treatment you might use to overcome both chronic stress and addiction. The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies says your CBT goals might involve:

  • Behavior. You learn to use less often and exercise more.
  • Thoughts. You might focus on eliminating negative self-talk while reminding yourself of your accomplishments.
  • Coping. You might identify stress triggers and learn how to amend those you can.
  • Feelings. You might work on shifting from depression to happiness or look for ways to ease overwhelming stress into basic tension.

You’ll make these changes by talking with a mental health professional in a series of appointments. Your doctor might add medications to ease specific symptoms, such as sleeping pills to alleviate insomnia, but those aren’t always required.

Your doctor might also help you understand the role of self-care in easing stress. The American Psychological Association says it’s helpful to build:

  • Strong relationships. Talk to your family and friends about your thoughts and fears. Look for ways to distance yourself from people who make you feel anxious or worried.
  • Anger management techniques. A quick reaction during an intense period of stress can make a situation worse. Walking away can help you deescalate before augmenting.
  • Relaxation skills. Exercise and meditation can help to calm the body and brain. Your therapist can teach you how and when to lean on these techniques.
  • Healthy sleep habits. Rest can help your body to heal from the damage of stress. Setting up your bedroom for sleep and sticking to a sleep schedule can be incredibly helpful.

Support groups can give you even more stress-busting ideas, and you’ll also learn how others have fought back against their addictions. You can go as often as you’d like, and there’s no charge for this care.

Don’t let chronic stress steal your health and happiness. If you’re struggling, get help at one of our drug rehab centers in South Florida.


Stress! Don’t Let It Make You Sick. (November 2014). AARP.

Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk. (March 2019). Mayo Clinic.

Stress and Addiction (May 2017). Psychology Today.

Chronic Stress, Drug Use, and Vulnerability to Addiction. (October 2008). Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

ABCT Fact Sheets: Stress. Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.

How to Manage Stress. (November 2017). Mind.

How Stress Affects Your Health. (2013). American Psychological Association.

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