How Does Stress Affect Addiction?

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Stress impacts mental health, especially among people who already experience substance use disorders. For people dealing with addiction, understanding stress and learning how to cope with it can help during the recovery process.

How Stress Affects Addiction

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a stressful condition. It can feel inescapable, taking a toll on people’s mental and physical health.

For many people with SUDs, stress can also contribute to addiction or worsen existing drug abuse.

Here you’ll discover ways in which stress overlaps with addiction, how it may impede recovery, and strategies for dealing with stress in addiction recovery.

Chronic Stress And Mental Health

The human stress response isn’t always a negative thing. In fact, it is crucial to our survival.

When we experience life-threatening danger, our bodies produce stress hormones such as cortisol, putting us into fight-flight-freeze mode, previously called fight-or-flight mode.

As a result, we instinctively address the danger by combating it (fight), escaping from it (flight), or hoping it won’t notice us (freeze).

However, our bodies can also respond this way to non-life-threatening stressors, such as a full email inbox.

When this stress is prolonged, it can become chronic stress, which negatively impacts mental health.

Chronic stress is a risk factor for several mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety disorders, and these mental illnesses often co-occur with drug and alcohol abuse.

Co-Occurring Stress Conditions

Traumatic events, which cause significant stress to the nervous system, can also lead to substance abuse.

Some people who experience extremely stressful life events, such as sexual abuse or military combat, may develop acute stress disorder (ASD).

The effects of ASD can include insomnia, hypervigilance, and flashbacks, as well as physical health problems such as high blood pressure and elevated heart rate.

When ASD persists for more than a month, it is classified as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Like many other mental health conditions, ASD and PTSD have a high correlation with addictive behaviors such as alcohol abuse and the use of illicit drugs.

Addiction And Self-Medication

Stressful situations can lead to drug use as a flawed coping mechanism. People with stress-related mental illnesses, for example, may abuse substances as a form of self-medication.

Even in the absence of mental illness, many people still turn to drugs or alcohol use to deal with high levels of stress, heightening the risk of addiction.

Stress As A Relapse Trigger

In addiction recovery, a trigger is a person, location, or circumstance that heightens a person’s risk of relapse.

For example, the fear of physical pain may trigger somebody who experiences opioid use disorder (OUD).

Stress and the effects of stress are some of the most common triggers for people dealing with drug addiction.

Stress Management For People In Addiction Recovery

Stress management is crucial for people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. Healthy coping strategies can prevent the use of addictive substances and promote overall well-being.

Some stress management options include:

  • addiction treatment programs with relapse prevention groups
  • mindfulness and meditation
  • physical exercise such as walking, strength training, or yoga
  • building community through support groups
  • therapy modalities such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
  • laughter
  • relaxing hobbies such as knitting or coloring
  • speaking to a doctor about antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication, if necessary

Get Help For Addiction

Addiction is a complicated disorder. Stress management is one piece of the puzzle, but recovery also involves support and treatment.

If you or a loved one is dealing with substance abuse, contact Detox Rehabs today to learn about treatment center options.


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Bedrock Recovery Center


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Ohio Recovery Center


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Spring Hill Recovery Center


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