Relationship Between Stress & Addiction
Everyone has experienced stress at least once in their life. In fact, most people have dealt with extreme stress, sometimes over long periods of time. Stress is a completely normal reaction to abnormal situations, and it manifests in different ways. Usually, it is temporary, and there are ways to manage it so that the normal pressures of life do not become overwhelming. However, sometimes it gets out of control, and we may turn to unhealthy methods of coping with the mounting pressures. Chronic, extreme stress often leads people to addiction, using drugs or alcohol as a way to forget about all of the negative or upsetting things in life that they cannot seem to escape. In this article, we will discuss how stress affects our minds and bodies, the relationship between it and addiction, and how to effectively manage it so that it does not leave us vulnerable to addiction.
Believe it or not, the term “stress” doesn’t really have a concrete definition. This is because not only is there “good” and “bad” kinds, but the way that each person reacts or behaves can vary greatly. Most of us probably have our own general definition, because most of us have been there personally. But did you know that there are actually multiple kinds? Researchers actually consider there to be two categories of stress: healthy, and unhealthy. Yes, not all of it is bad — some of it can even be good for us! Here are the different types one can experience:
This kind happens instantly as a response to a perceived threat or danger: AKA, a fight or flight response. This type of stress occurs to prepare the body to defend itself. During this short-term response, the brain tells the body to increase cortisol levels, adrenaline, and other hormones that produce an increased heart and breathing rate, higher blood pressure, etc.
This is sort of the opposite of acute stress, in that this adds up over time and will be experienced long-term if nothing is done to manage it. This is the kind that is unhealthy and can lead to negative mental, emotional, and physical effects. It is also the type of stress that people attempt to manage with drugs or alcohol, leading to addiction.
Also known as “good stress”. This kind is what one experiences during important or meaningful events that tend to get us excited (but also nervous)! For example, things like:
- Getting a promotion
- Having a baby
- Winning money
- Meeting new people
Also known as “bad stress.” This occurs alongside not-so-exciting events such as:
- Getting a divorce
- Getting in trouble/punished
- Getting hurt/injured
- Experiencing financial Problems
- Struggles at work
Just how prevalent is stress in the United States, and how does it affect our daily life? Check out these charts from The American Institute of Stress
which show data from 2014 reflecting how Americans feel about it.
|U.S. Stress Statistics
|Percent of people who regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress
|Regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress
|Feel they are living with extreme stress
|Feel their stress has increased over the past five years
|Cited money and work as the leading cause of their stress
|Reported lying awake at night due to stress
|Stress Impact Statistics
|Percent who say stress has a negative impact on their personal and professional life
|Employed adults who say they have difficulty managing work and family responsibilities
|Percent who cited jobs interfering with their family or personal time as a significant source of stress
|Percent who said stress has caused them to fight with people close to them
|Reported being alienated from a friend or family member because of stress
|Annual costs to employers in stress-related health care and missed work
|Percent who say they are “always” or “often” under stress at work
As you can see, stress is causing a lot of really troubling issues for a large number of Americans. A whopping 77 percent of Americans cite physical symptoms from it, and 73 percent emotional and mental symptoms that interfere with their daily functioning. If so many of us are experiencing these major repercussions, it means that many more people are vulnerable to slipping into addiction than we might think.
The Effects of Stress on the Body & Mind
As we mentioned, chronic distress can take a toll on the body. These symptoms can range from mildly uncomfortable to downright unbearable. Even the smallest of symptoms can wear a person down over time. Here are some of the most common effects:
- erectile dysfunction
- fertility problems
- heart problems
- high blood pressure
- high blood sugar
- low sex drive
- missed periods
- pounding heart
- rapid breathing
- stomach pains
- tense muscles
- weakened immune system
Naturally, any person would want to escape these symptoms, especially if they persist for a long time. A negative or unstable emotional state will leave anyone vulnerable to adapting unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Stress and Addiction
There is strong evidence
connecting chronic stress with the motivation to abuse drugs or alcohol. Stressful experiences during childhood such as physical and sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence, family dysfunction, etc are strongly associated with an increased risk for addiction. In addition, unhappy marriages, dissatisfaction with employment, harassment, etc are often cited as major catalysts for addiction.
Drugs, alcohol, certain foods, and activities have the same effect of stimulating the brain’s reward center by releasing dopamine, causing us to experience a pleasurable response. The brain remembers the good feeling that the substance or activity caused, and it will instill a desire in you to continue seeking out whatever caused the response. These pleasurable experiences are especially desired when the person is also experiencing stress, as the dopamine provides an escape from the negative feelings that come along with chronic stress.
Another important factor in whether or not a person develops an addiction due to stress is if they have healthy coping skills. A lack of healthy coping skills is a big predictor of someone turning to drugs, alcohol
, or other damaging methods of managing painful emotions.
How to Manage Stress
be managed — even if it's chronic! Nip it in the bud before it gets to be too much. Here are some ways you can cope with it in a healthy way and avoid turning to addiction:
Exercising is one of the best ways to reduce stress. It gets your blood flowing, increases dopamine, and makes you feel accomplished, among other things. Even simple walks around the neighborhood will have a profound positive impact on your mental state. Try and work up to an hour per day, and you will definitely see a difference!
Stopping for a moment to focus on nothing but breathing can really help re-direct and calm your mind. It will also increase oxygen flow to your brain, helping you become more mentally alert but also relaxed. Take a deep breath in through the nose, hold for a few seconds, then release it out through your mouth. Repeat for 5–10 minutes.
What we put into our body has great significance in our physical and mental wellbeing. Your body performs much better when its nutritional needs are being met. Try and eat less processed foods and focus on incorporating more whole plant foods into your diet. When you present your body with the fuel it needs, you’ll find that your body and brain will be in tip-top shape.
Dedicate time to relaxing
In this fast-paced, technology-saturated world, it can be difficult to schedule time to just relax. Even on weekends or during time off work, we occupy our time with watching television, playing video games, doing chores, or other activities that don’t allow our minds and bodies to enter a truly relaxed state. Try to find at least 20 minutes a day to simply lie in a comfortable position and just close your eyes and exist in that moment.
Do yoga or meditate
Yoga and meditation are excellent ways to train our brains to work through emotional and physical pain. Both of these activities are all about performing uncomfortable physical and mental tasks, but continuing pushing through. In yoga, you will have to hold poses that are physically challenging for your body, but through breathing and focus, you train yourself to be able to continue. Meditation is more about training your brain to acknowledge the tough stuff, but not to dwell on it too long and become lost in grief. Instead, through meditation, you can learn to simply let things be as they are, and not worry too much about the outcome.
Make time for hobbies
Taking time to do things you enjoy is paramount. Don’t be afraid to indulge in fun stuff. The kind folks at one of the premier drug rehabs in Arizona
, Arizona Addiction Center.
Talk to someone
Talking to friends and family is beneficial, but often times it’s even better to also meet with a therapist/counselor on a consistent basis. Together, you can work on building your coping skills and preparing you to handle all the difficulties life throws at you, without spiraling into a stress-induced panic!