The Relationship Between Stress And Addiction

Stress is an all too familiar feeling for denizens of the modern world. Whether it be from the workplace or at home, we are barraged by different stressors on a regular basis. To cope, we have developed various methods for dealing with stress, and they are effective in reducing stress levels for most people.


However, not all coping mechanisms are created equally. Some methods are less effective than others, while some only cause more trouble. In particular, some people turn to vices such as drinking, smoking, and other substance abuse to relieve the stress. Others become obsessed with activities known to provide immense satisfaction and excitement, such as gambling and gaming.


“Addiction is defined as a habitual psychological or physiologic dependence on a substance or practice that is beyond voluntary control.” — Tarra Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT


Some of these activities are harmless, except for smoking and substance abuse. However, some people develop an irresistible obsession with these behaviors, sometimes going to extreme lengths to perform them. This phenomenon is called addiction, and millions of people globally find themselves unable to stop.


A strong link between stress and addiction exists, and it is, therefore, essential to consider stress management when trying to break away from addiction. By delving deeper into how stress influences addiction, better treatment strategies for addiction can be devised.


On Stress And Developing Addiction

Stress is a bodily response designed initially to protect against threats by putting vital systems, such as the circulatory and respiratory systems, into overdrive. In small quantities, stress can be beneficial, as it can promote feelings of relaxation and achievement after the stressor has gone away. However, intense or chronic stress is harmful, as too much stimulation can wear down the human body and exhaust mental reserves.


Addictive behaviors are sometimes utilized by people under extreme stress as a coping mechanism, as these behaviors tend to bring about strong but temporary improvements in mood. For example, drugs can cause the release of certain neurotransmitters that promote feelings of ecstasy and happiness. Activities like gaming evoke feelings of thrill and excitement, which can help counteract the constant feelings of anxiety and dread brought about by chronic stress.


“Addictions are secretive habits the person has unsuccessfully tried to stop, and that have disrupted work and home. An addiction takes an outsized role in the addict’s life and affects those they love.” — Jason Whiting Ph.D.


However, as the stimuli are short-lived, these positive feelings eventually disappear, forcing people to seek out another opportunity to consume the substance or to perform the activity. Also, the oversaturated brain can learn to become resistant to these stimuli. It means people will need more of the stimuli to experience the same level of ecstasy. This results in a cycle of addiction, which was initially triggered by the need to relieve stress.


Research literature supports the role of stress in promoting the onset of addiction, but stress can also become a burden to those trying to break free from addiction. Significant stress levels can reduce recovery rates. By draining mental reserves, it becomes harder to stick to proper treatment. Patients may relapse into their old addictions to deal with the stress.


Fighting Addiction By Fighting Stress

While the case may seem hopeless, there are effective ways to fight back. The key is to acknowledge that addiction cannot be treated independently of other mental conditions, especially stress. 


“In addition to worrying about a slip, a recovering addict has anxiety that the substance abuse has masked. Drugs smoothed over difficult feelings and situations that now must be faced “on the natch.” — Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT


If you find yourself suffering from both, then learn more about stress management. Many resources can provide you with all the knowledge you need. Some good sources of information are the articles from BetterHelp, which have extensive writing on the nature of stress as well as ways to cope with it.


Adopt activities that promote calm, such as yoga and meditation. Discuss your problems with people you trust and do not hesitate to ask for support whenever you need it. Talk to your mental health specialist about anything that causes you stress and request for assistance in creating a stress management plan that complements your anti-addiction program.


By now, you should realize the strong link between stress and addiction. They are a powerful duo, but stress and addiction are far from invincible. Merely fighting against stress is a step towards solving addiction problems. By doing all of these stress management tips, you will significantly reduce your stress levels, making the fight against addiction more manageable.

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