this image The Relationship Between Stress and Addiction

The Relationship Between Stress and Addiction

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Addiction has its basis in a number of different areas. To some degree addiction is genetic in that a child is more prone to addiction if their parent is an addict. But addiction can also form based on environment. Part of the environment is the stress that it causes and stress can often lead to addiction. This article will seek to explain the link between stress and addiction.

Addiction Defined

Addiction is no respecter of person. It can affect those who use prescription drugs on medical advice and those who use illegal and legal drugs recreationally. IT affects the young, old, rich, poor, uneducated, and well educated. Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of the brain. It affects the reward, motivation, memory, and related circulatory systems. Dysfunction in these areas can lead to changes biologically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually. Addiction starts to overtake the person and can lead to damage in all areas of life. It is characterized by the inability to abstain with cravings and diminished recognition of significant problems with these behaviors. Someone is not defective due to addiction, but they do need help.

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Stress is the body’s way of responding to any type of demand. It can be both a positive and negative experience. When people feel stressed by what is going on in their lives, their bodies react by releasing chemicals into the blood stream.

Stress and Addiction

Stress is a natural part of life. However, it can also be a key factor in addiction initiation, maintenance, treatment failure, and even relapse. When stressful events are paired with poor coping skills this can impact the risk of addiction through an increasing impulse to respond through drug use or self-medication. There is unfortunately no way to completely eliminate stress from life, but there are healthy ways to cope, which will be shared later in the article.

While stress cannot necessarily be scientifically defined as it is felt differently by different people and can originate in unique ways for each person, studies have been attempted with self-reporting. Researcher Hans Seyle is responsible for common notions of the term stress. He defines stress as a nonspecific response to demands for change. He went further to define three potential stages of stress response that are useful when understanding addiction and other areas. These include:

  • Alarm – The body and mind experience stress and become mobilized (fight or flight)
  • Resistance – If stress continues, the body continues to mobilize
  • Exhaustion – If stress continues the system breaks down and leaves the individual vulnerable

Risk Factors

This basically means that while stress may not be a direct cause of substance abuse disorders, it can be described as a risk factor. So, it increases the probability, especially with prolonged stress. The stress when combined with other factors can lead into addiction. These other factors may include one or all of the following:

  • Adolescents with negative life events – Negative events at this age that bring about stress create individuals more likely to use drugs or alcohol
  • Childhood trauma and maltreatment – Those who experience abuse and victimization as children are more likely to have substance use disorders
  • More trauma over a lifetime – Extreme stress related events or multiple events create those who are more likely to use drugs and alcohol.

Explaining the Connection

These are associated with a higher risk for substance abuse, not a guarantee that someone will use drugs and alcohol. Though the mechanisms that connect stress and addiction are not well understood, it is known that both severe stressful events and chronic exposure to stress result in neurobiological changes, as does substance abuse. There are a few hypotheses that try to explain the connection.

  • Self-Medication hypothesis – Individuals who experience chronic stress use drugs and alcohol to deal with the unpleasantness of that stress.
  • Psychological disorder hypothesis – Those with psychological disorders are more likely to have substance use issues and also report higher levels of stress, linking the two.
  • World interpretation hypothesis – The way in which someone interprets the world influences their perceived stressors and vulnerability to substance abuse. These individuals may feel that experiences and actions are far beyond their control.


Though substance abuse may begin as stress, substance use disorder is more complex. This is also called addiction. The substance abuse can alleviate stress, but addiction is characterized by chronic drug seeking in spite of consequences. Ironically, at the point of addiction, substance abuse is a source of stress. Someone who is addicted becomes preoccupied looking for the next fix, drink, or high, which is stressful. This vicious cycle is very hard to break.

Tools for Dealing with Stress

As mentioned, handling stress prior to an addiction forming requires coping skills. These are skills that will help alleviate or at least deal with stress so substance abuse is not needed. While these skills cannot totally prevent substance abuse as there are many causes, they can help. These are each simple and available to all.

  • Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol – Each of these items can increase stress rather than reduce it
  • Physical activity – When the fight or flight feelings hit, alleviate them by getting some exercise
  • Get some sleep – Getting plenty of sleep will reduce stress, but this should be accomplished medication free
  • Relaxation techniques – Techniques like self-hypnosis can help you relax
  • Talk it out – Stress can keep you from seeing things clearly, talk about what is happening to get another point of view
  • Journal it – Write down the situations that cause the most stress and avoid them or plan how to deal with them better
  • Take control – Find solutions to those problems that may at first seem impossible
  • Time management – List what needs done in terms of priority and break them down into manageable pieces
  • Just say no – Being overbooked can be stressful, learn to say no to unimportant requests
  • Rest if sick – Take time to rest if you are sick instead of pushing forward, this allows the body to recover faster

These techniques will help you to reduce stress and be less likely to turn to drugs.

The River

If you find yourself or a loved one find yourself turning to drugs or alcohol to deal with stress then give The River a call. This in-patient facility will not only teach you how to appropriately handle stress, but overcome addiction in a timely manner. You deserve the best, so call The River in Thailand.