4 MIN READ | Psychotherapy

Tommy Williamson

Stress and Addiction: How Are They Related?

Cite This
Tommy Williamson, (2022, November 20). Stress and Addiction: How Are They Related?. Psychreg on Psychotherapy. https://www.psychreg.org/stress-addiction-how-are-they-related/
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Stress and addiction are co-related. As we all know, how stress is an unavoidable part of our life. Even the smallest things cause us stress sometimes. Be it office work, budget maintenance, your child’s study, or broken relationships, we tend to take stress every now and then. While stress keeps us motivated to achieve our goals, too much of it can overwhelm us very soon. Also, everyone copes with stress in different ways. While some join meditation or yoga classes and indulge in an aggressive sport, others may resort to using drugs or alcohol to escape life’s reality. And stress hits differently when you are already dealing with substance use disorder and recovery.

Read this article where we will explain the relationship between stress and addiction and the ways to manage it for addiction treatment and recovery.

How does stress impact addiction?

Stress can act as a barrier for people dealing with addiction treatment and the recovery process. One of the greatest risk factors causing addiction is stress which disturbs brain function and doesn’t let you think straight. This risk is higher if you have suffered from stress in early childhood or experienced any traumatic event at any time.

Chronic stress and high risk of drug use

Long-lasting chronic stress can cause anxiety, which can develop a risk of developing an addiction. During the chronic stress period, your ability to manage and respond to anything is affected and further impacts three major parts of the brain, i.e. dopamine, serotonin, and melatonin.

While dopamine is a happy hormone and makes you feel good, serotonin and melatonin keep your mood balanced and regulate your sleep, respectively. Chronic stress disturbs the functioning and production of these three hormones. Anyone who is suffering from chronic stress and lacks healthy coping mechanisms can turn to drugs or alcohol as a way of managing it. Chronic stress can also lead to relapse.

Stress smoking

90% of smokers believe that smoking reduces their stress. But this is not the case. In fact, smokers tend to have higher levels of stress than non-smokers. How?

Tobacco is a stimulant, and its continuous use activates the brain’s reward system, which induces a rush of pleasure. If you stop smoking even for 24 hours, the body’s stress response gets activated and leads to anxiety and discomfort, as a result of nicotine withdrawal. This cycle makes it hard for smokers to quit the habit and end up giving them more stress, not less.

Smoking and its effects on addiction recovery

Based on a report by National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 65% to 85% of people with drug or alcohol addiction are also smokers. And these people are most likely to suffer from anxiety and depression as well. Because nicotine is addictive, smoking becomes an addiction too.

Also, it has been found that people in recovery tend to recover faster if they quit smoking. Why? Because smoking is a great risk factor for relapse.

Stress drinking

Stress and alcohol have a strong link. When a person uses alcohol, it blunts the effects of hormones, changes brain function, and reduces feelings of anxiety. While it is only a temporary relief, the long-term use of alcohol can make it more difficult for a body to function without it.

This on-and-off cycle triggers the desire to drink, which ultimately leads to problem drinking. It is also called self-medication.

Tips to manage stress

Drastic steps are not always needed when you want to bring a positive change in your life. To manage stress successfully, a few things that you can do include:

  • Proper nutrition. Ditch unhealthy eating habits and include more salads, sprouts, and healthy options in your diet.
  • Regular exercise. If you find it difficult to wake up in the morning, take a walk after dinner to make a healthy schedule.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. Try to limit the use of alcohol and drugs. Stop going to the parties where alcohol is served or you can change your friend circle to a sober one. For more help, you can consult a doctor or therapist.
  • Take time for leisure and rest. Always and always keep your sanity. Take some time out between working hours just to be relaxed.
  • Get the sleep you need. Try to sleep early rather than scrolling the phone.

Self-care is more important than you think. When you take care of yourself, you increase your ability to be resilient. It not only helps you maintain a healthy body but also helps you perform better under stress.

While there are many ways in which you can do self-care, do not forget to take small steps every day. For example, take a vacation or a spa day when it is becoming difficult at the office or home. It helps keep your mind fresh, relaxed, and stress-free. Also, be consistent.

Stress and addiction recovery

To recover successfully, it is crucial to stay away from stress as much as you can. But, when you use alcohol or drugs, it damages the brain and makes even small stressful events or moments feel huge.

If substance use has been your mode of dealing with stress, it will be hard for you to recover when staying sober. Quitting the substances when you are dealing with issues like anxiety can be stressful on your body, especially during the drug detoxification process. Also, you have to be distant from the places, people, and things that act as a trigger for you. These triggers can cause intense cravings. A few things that you can do to manage cravings are:

  •       Maintain a sober circle.
  •       Surround yourself with positive people.
  •       Avoid visiting bars, pubs, etc.
  •       Indulge yourself in productive activities to keep yourself busy.
  •       Be gentle to yourself.

Bottom line

Stress is a negative feeling and it becomes worse when combined with any kind of substance use. While for many people the cost of rehab can be high, you can use insurance to pay for it. Why? Because you can learn how to identify triggers and manage stressful situations in drug rehab. You can also be a part of addiction counselling sessions for addiction treatment. Also, the drug rehab centres in the UK can help you get a new substance-free and stress-free life if you just go for it.


Tommy Williamson did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in psychology, mental health, and wellness.


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