Stress is a normal part of being alive. However, its effects vary widely. For some, different kinds of stress can be good motivators for positive changes. For some, the same amount of stress can be debilitating and may even trigger or exacerbate mental health conditions, one of which is substance use disorder.
Stress has long been linked to substance use and abuse. The recent development in research led to a better understanding of the links and mechanisms between stress and addiction. For today’s article, we’ll talk about the specific ways stress and substance use disorder can affect each other, as well as some healthy coping mechanisms for stress.
What Is Stress?
Stress is a highly individualized psychological and physical reaction to the demands and changes in our lives. It is how our bodies are designed to react physically, emotionally, mentally, and behaviorally to any shift in the status quo. Additionally, imagined change can also cause stress.
According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Center for Integrated Healthcare, around 75 to 90% of all doctor visits are for stress-related issues and complaints. Moreover, stress is linked to the 6 leading causes of death in America – cancer, lung ailments, accidents, heart disease, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide. As mentioned, drug addiction and stress can also be linked, as well as smoking, alcoholism, and more.
There are three main types of stress: acute, episodic acute, and chronic:
Acute stress refers to the body’s natural response to a recent or anticipated challenge or unexpected event. This is the type of stress that throws you off momentarily–an argument, a pop quiz, or even a near-accident experience. However, some cases of acute stress can be severe like witnessing a crime, and they can develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Episodic Acute Stress
This type of stress is basically acute stress happening frequently. Having episodic acute stress constantly makes you feel you are under pressure or things are or might be going awry, which can be exhausting, both physically and mentally.
Chronic stress means ongoing stress stemming from long-term emotional or mental pressure. Some of these may be a high-stress career, domestic woes or family trauma, or financial burdens.
To reiterate, stress can be beneficial in creating changes or starting new things. However, stress affects each person differently. The same amount of stress that can produce good results for others may impact another person’s life negatively. This can lead to PTSD, addiction, anxiety, and other mental disorders.
Stress And Addiction Link
The relationship between stress and addiction is complex. Good mental health does not guarantee that a person will never use or abuse substances like alcohol and illicit drugs. In the same way, not everyone with mental health disorder will use alcohol or other drugs. However, studies have shown that there is definitely a link between mental health and alcohol and substance abuse disorders, which we will discuss in the following sections.
4 Ways Stress And Addiction Can Affect Each Other
- Stress And Addictive Behaviors
Stress, particularly the chronic type, has always been a risk factor for addictive behaviors. Experiencing prolonged stress heightens the risk of turning to substance use to cope with challenging situations.
One of the stresses associated with addiction is negative life events. Studies demonstrate that adolescents facing frequent negative life events have an increased level of drug use and abuse. These may be a loss of a parent, parental divorce and conflict, low parental support, physical and emotional abuse, neglect, isolation and deviant affiliation, and single-parent family structure.
Additionally, a cumulative number of stressful events was also significantly predictive of alcohol and drug dependence across. This means that if a person is subjected to a lot of stressful events, they all pile up and increase their likelihood to turn to substances to cope, which then leads to substance abuse.
- Stress And Self-medication Or Self-administration
Research has also found that exposure to acute stress increases the risk of self-initiation to substance use. This means that short and stressful or challenging events heighten a person’s likelihood of being introduced to a substance. Additionally, how stress is related to addiction can also be determined by early life stress. Isolation and parental separation enhance self-administration of nicotine, psychostimulants, and alcohol and/or their acute behavioral effects.
- Stress And Addiction Recovery
Stress and addiction recovery have a complicated relationship with each other. Stress is a risk factor for addiction, and struggling with substance use can also add to chronic stress. Although these links are not universally causative, they cannot be denied and provide better insight on how to manage rehabilitation treatments better.
Another point to make about mental health and substance abuse is that when you have both, they are considered co-occurring disorders. Both the mental health issue and the substance use problem have their own unique symptoms that may debilitate you to fully function at work or school, maintain a stable home life, handle life’s challenges, and even relate to a community.
However, it is also important to note that co-occurring disorders are more common than we think. Although they pose a greater challenge in treatment approaches, co-occurring disorders can be managed with the right rehabilitation strategy fit for you or your loved one’s needs.
- Stress And Relapse
Stress and addiction both cause changes in our brains. Both impact the way signals are transmitted in the nervous system. If the receivers of these signals, the neurotransmitters, are damaged, it will become more and more challenging for a person to feel happiness and contentment. This might lead to depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.
To cope, people with mood disorders might resort to substances that can develop into a full-blown addiction. Moreover, people in recovery from addiction may also find themselves in the midst of these mood disorders because of the emotional, mental, and physical changes they are experiencing. During this time of transition, it may be tempting to revert to using substances once more to get some ‘relief’.
IMPORTANT REMINDER: Relapse is a common part of addiction recovery. According to studies, it takes eight years or more to achieve long-term remission even with high-quality treatment and medical care. So relapses should never discourage you or a loved one from continuing your journey of recovery.
Finding The Best Stress And Addiction Treatment
To reiterate, it has long been established that the relationship between stress and addiction is a complex and highly-nuanced one. This is especially true for co-occurring disorders in which a mental health disorder and an addiction simultaneously affect a patient. Here at Roots Through Recovery, we understand the unique needs to provide superior support for such cases.
If you are looking for specialized mental health treatment for stress and addiction, we are here to help. Here at Roots, we stay away from a cookie-cutter view of creating treatment plans for our patients, and we approach your recovery based on your specific situation, needs, and goals.
Embrace the culture of wellness with us at Roots, located at the heart of Long Beach–a city that offers a diverse community for healing the mind, body, and spirit. Come visit us at 3939 Atlantic Ave, Suite 102 Long Beach, CA 90807, or call (866) 766-8776 for immediate assistance.