STRESS

and Addiction

Table of Contents

STRESS AS A KEY RISK FACTOR IN ADDICTION

Stress and addiction can often occur together. Stress is known as a key risk factor in the development of an addiction and can cause a relapse. Stress can initiate addiction when someone uses substances to cope with the stress. Regularly occurring stress combined with drug use can escalate an addiction and cause prolonged drug use to cope with what they’re going through. Stress levels must be managed during recovery as it can be a cause of both relapse and treatment failure.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CHRONIC AND NORMAL STRESS

Everyone has some kind of stress that occurs in their everyday life, this is usually normal stress. While normal stress can be troublesome, it’s something that most people can manage. Chronic stress on the other hand is stress that occurs more frequently and at levels that are higher than normal.
Chronic stress can be very debilitating and lead to someone feeling overwhelmed. The combination of stress and addiction can be very common in those experiencing chronic stress as they may feel the desire to self-medicate by using recreational drugs.
To measure stress levels there is a tool that can be used called the Perceived Stress Scale. The Perceived Stress Scale involves people answering questions that help determine the stress levels they experience during their day to day life. This Perceived Stress Scale can be useful in determining whether someone is experiencing normal or chronic stress.

PHYSICAL EFFECTS OF STRESS

Stress Rash

Frequent or chronic stress can cause adverse effects on the skin, such as a stress rash. A stress rash often has an itchy or burning sensation when touched and can be a sign that someone is experiencing high stress levels.

Stress Incontinence

Stress incontinence can be caused by high levels of stress and anxiety. Stress can cause incontinence to occur or worsen already existing issues. Stress incontinence will often cause stress levels to be higher creating further issues.

Stress Hives

Like a stress rash, stress hives are an adverse effect that stress can have on the skin. Stress hives often cause an itching, burning, or tingly sensation when touched and can be very irritating.

Stress Ulcer

A stress ulcer is an ulcerative lesion of the stomach that occurs because of stress. A stress ulcer will often come on suddenly due to high levels of psychological stress.

Stress Headache

A stress headache, also known as a tension headache, can be caused by high amounts of stress. Stress can cause a lot of tension to build up in the body which can cause things like a stress headache to occur.

HOW STRESS LEADS TO ADDICTION

Stress and addiction can often occur together, and high levels of stress can lead to addiction. When someone is experiencing high levels of stress, they may feel the need to self-medicate with prescription or recreational drugs. Self-medicating and misusing or abusing drugs can lead to a dependence forming and cause an addiction.
Studies have also shown that high amounts of stress over a long period of time can essentially rewire the brain and cause behavioral and thought patterns to change. This change in behavioral and thought patterns can lead to irrational behavior such as abusing or misusing drugs. Over time this type of activity can lead to an addiction.

HOW ADDICTION LEADS TO STRESS

Addiction can lead to legal troubles, financial instability, and family issues. All of these things can cause high levels of stress and anxiety to occur. Stress and addiction can both intensify one another, so these increased levels of stress can increase the desire to use drugs to cope even more than they already were.

THE CONNECTION BETWEEN CHILDHOOD TRAUMA AND STRESS

When someone experiences childhood trauma, those experiences are often internalized. Later in life that same childhood trauma can cause increased stress and anxiety levels. People who experienced childhood trauma may be more prone to having emotional reactions to things, especially things that remind them of traumatic incidents they went through as a kid.
Childhood trauma can affect someone for years, causing things like stress and addiction to be more likely to occur, as that person may experience stress and use drugs as a way to cope.

HOW CHILDHOOD NEGLECT INCREASES THE RISK OF ADDICTION

People who experienced childhood neglect have a much higher risk of developing addiction issues later in life. Childhood neglect can lead to someone feeling isolated and having an inability to trust. These things can cause someone to lean on substances to try to cope with this. When drugs are taken to self-medicate or cope, it can lead to a dependence, forming an addiction.

THE CUMULATIVE DISADVANTAGE

Frequent or reoccurring stress can affect the nervous system. When the body is stressed, the nervous system goes into fight or flight mode to deal with the threat it thinks the body is experiencing. With chronic stress this can lead to changes that alter the nervous system since it is always going into this fight or flight response.
The cumulative disadvantage occurs as chronic high stress levels further affect the mind and body making you more susceptible to adverse effects. This is another way stress and addiction may be connected, as these changes in the nervous system can make it more likely that someone could develop an addiction.

STRESS EFFECTS ON COMMON DRUGS

Amphetamines

Amphetamines can cause someone to experience increased anxiety, paranoia, and psychosis. Stress and amphetamines can lead to an increased risk of experiencing these effects.

Cocaine

Heightened anxiety and stress after cocaine use can lead to an increased chance of relapse. Stress and cocaine combined can increase side effects, such as anxiety and paranoia that may occur with cocaine use.

Alcohol

For someone experiencing stress, alcohol can seem to help decrease stress levels. However, the combination of stress and alcohol can actually increase stress levels over time, especially if alcohol is abused as an attempt to cope with stress or self-medicate. High stress levels after someone gets sober can also lead to a relapse, so it’s important to have a plan in place for managing stress.

PTSD AND SUBSTANCE USE DISORDER

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) leads to increased levels of anxiety and stress in individuals who experienced this kind of past trauma. Those who struggle with PTSD may try to lean on drugs and alcohol in order to cope with the trauma. Drugs can seem like a mask for someone struggling, but it will only make the problem worse over time. The combination of stress and addiction can cause many negative effects and is especially difficult when PTSD is involved.

COMMON STRESSORS

Everyone experiences some levels of stress in their daily life. A good first step in managing stress can be recognizing common stressors, learning how they affect you, and knowing how to cope with them. Common stressors include:
  • The death of a loved one
  • Divorce
  • Loss of a job
  • Increase in financial obligations
  • Getting married Moving to a new home 
  • Chronic illness or injury
  • Emotional problems (depression, anxiety, anger, grief, guilt, low self-esteem)

STRESS MANAGEMENT

Learning how to manage stress is an important in dealing with the stresses we experience in everyday life. Doing things that are good for your health and well-being can be a good thing to focus on. Things like eating healthy and exercising can increase your overall health, boost your mood, and decrease stress levels.
Keeping a good work-life balance and creating free time for yourself to take a break here and there can also be good for relaxing and decreasing stress. Avoiding frequent excessive drinking and the use of recreational drugs is also very beneficial for managing stress levels and making sure you keep your body and mind healthy.

HOW TO TREAT STRESS AND ADDICTION

When someone is struggling with both stress and addiction it’s important to make sure they get help for both issues at the same time. Only treating one or the other will be detrimental as stress can lead to addiction and addiction can lead to stress. When treating stress and addiction, a good first step may be speaking to a medical professional or looking into going to a treatment center.
A treatment center will help you detox from drug addiction and provide therapy and other resources to help with stress and any other underlying issues. After attending rehab, it will still be important to manage stress levels in order to maintain sobriety. Stress can be caused by many things in someone’s work, home, and social life, and it’s important to remain aware of what things cause stress.
If you or someone you know is struggling, there are resources available to get the help you need. Call Iris Healing today.

More About Addiction