What is the Link Between Stress and Addiction?

A recent article in Psychology Today explores the topic of chronic stress and how stress can increase vulnerability to addiction.

Have you dealt with a lot of stress lately? If so, it might be time to take care of it. Stress is a major risk factor in addiction recovery. Stress may increase the chance of a relapse. Stress is a normal part of everyday life and while it may not be possible to eliminate stress completely, there are ways to manage it better.

What is Stress?

Most of us have been stressed before, but how exactly do you define stress? Stress is defined as adversity or hardship that a person experiences. Biologically speaking, stress causes a rise in our blood levels and increases stress hormones, like cortisol. Fight-or-flight is the normal response to stress. In this state, all the blood goes to the muscles so that you are ready to take off when necessary.

There is a difference between chronic and normal stress. Moderate stressors in life are perceived to be pleasant. In fact, some people love a challenging stressful situation that promotes the release of stress hormones. However, intense and prolonged stress due to unfortunate situations can produce feelings of helplessness and depression.

Chronic stress increases the risk for developing:

  • Depression
  • The Common Cold
  • Influenza
  • Tension Headaches
  • Clenching of the Jaw
  • Teeth Grinding
  • Tension of neck and shoulders

Stress stems from a multitude of sources. Trauma in early childhood can make people more vulnerable to stress later in life. There are studies that suggest stress in early life can cause methylation of key genes that control the stress system When this happens, we remain in a constant state of emergency.

The workplace is another environment prone to chronic stress.

If your job is very demanding, stress is a likely result. On the same note, those who feel unappreciated at work or unimportant are susceptible to developing clinical anxiety and depression, as well as stress-related medical conditions like ulcers and diabetes.

For some, a common remedy is abusing addictive substances. Research in human studies reveals that adversity during childhood and early life can increase the risk for addiction. Furthermore, people with an unhappy marriage, dissatisfaction with employment or harassment also report increased rates of addiction.

The more stressors a person is exposed to, the greater risk of substance abuse. Economist Deaton (2015) shows that less educated white Americans who struggle in the job market during early adulthood are more likely to experience “cumulative disadvantage” over time, with health and personal problems that lead to drug overdoses, alcohol-related liver disease, and suicide.

Why is this?

One explanation is the self-medication theory. This theory suggests that a person uses drugs to cope with stressors or relieve themselves of anxiety and depression resulting from a traumatic event. Thus, drug use acts as a mean to soothe the psychological distress.

High emotional stress is linked to loss of impulse control and an inability to delay gratification. Chronic stress decreases gray matter volume in the brain. This area is associated with cognitive control and stress regulation.

Essentially, stressed people are prone to give into their impulses as a way of coping with daily stress. In sum, people who are more stressed lack the ability to make rational decisions.

In conclusion, learning to manage stress is crucial to success in recovery. if you are struggling, reach out for help. There are a variety of treatment options available to manage stress. We are a phone call away. Please take care of your health. Call now. 

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