How Do You Handle Stress: How Stress Relates to Addiction, Recovery, and Relapse

Stress is how the body responds to outside changes and events. But how do you handle stress? Maybe stress and addiction go hand-in-hand for you. Or, your struggle is with stress and relapse. Addiction treatment teaches coping skills for stress and relapse prevention. 

What is Stress?

Stress is your body’s response to outside changes or events. It can be a one-time thing or an ongoing issue. It can also be a good thing or a bad thing. 

Common sources of stress include:

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) lists three main types of stress: routine daily stress, stress from a sudden change, and stress from a traumatic event. When you feel stress, it causes changes in the mind and body. The fight-or-flight response, for example, it’s your brain’s response to times of high stress or danger. 

Everyone copes with stress in different ways. Some people may use drugs or alcohol to cope. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) warns that stress, in fact, increases the misuse of substances. 

How Common is Stress?

Regardless of your age, ethnicity, and religion, no one is immune to stress. Reports from 2014 by the American Psychological Association shows stress is widespread. For example, 

Stress and Addiction

How Do You Handle Stress: Chronic Stress Effects

Chronic stress can, however, have negative effects on the mind and body. For instance, chronic stress symptoms include:

Stress and Addiction

Stress and addiction often go together. For example, stress may contribute to misusing substances. Likewise, misusing substances can cause stress. 

Drugs such as cocaine, alcohol, and amphetamines trigger the reward pathways in the brain and the stress pathways. Furthermore, psychological stress responses are also activated during withdrawal.

How Does Stress Lead to Becoming Dependent on Substances?

High levels of stress can lead to unhealthy coping habits. Although many healthy practices like meditation, exercise, and art can relieve stress, many people use drugs or alcohol instead. These substances bring quick relief. But, they can also lead to becoming dependent on these substances. 

Mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, can be stressful. Mental illness itself can also cause people to handle stress differently. They may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. At the same time, if someone is prescribed medication, they may take more than recommended to cope with stress.

Stress and Addiction in Women

Women typically use drugs more often than men to cope with daily stress. Although they may start with a glass of wine, women often migrate to other substances to handle stress. No one begins using substances expecting to become addicted. With women specifically, they don’t realize they have a problem until they need treatment to stop. 

Stress and Addiction in Men

Chronic Stress Effects

The use of alcohol to cope with stress is twice as high in men as in women. Men also react differently to alcohol than women. For example, men’s brains are more sensitive to alcohol-induced dopamine release. Therefore, they have a higher risk of struggling with stress and addiction. 

The Dangers of Stress and Relapse

When a person is in early recovery, they will face some very stressful situations. Not only are they trying to manage cravings and triggers, but they are also rebuilding their lives. Significant transitions in life are often stressful, but even more so for someone in recovery. 

Stress and relapse don’t mix well. For instance, some people started using because of stress. So, after detox, people need other ways to cope with stress and addiction. It’s not easy to break the cycle of addiction. However, developing healthy coping skills for stress and relapse can be very beneficial. 

Along with stress and relapse, chronic stress can have adverse physical and mental effects. For example, chronic stress can lead to heart problems. Comprehensive treatment needs to include healthy coping skills for stress and addiction. 

How Do You Handle Stress? Tips to Manage Stress and Addiction

Managing stress is vital to maintaining Recovery for Life. A comprehensive addiction program teaches several ways to cope with stress and addiction. The tools you learn can decrease stress and relapse risks during difficult situations. 

Practice morning mindfulness. 

Wake up early, grab that cup of coffee, and step outside. Take a deep breath of fresh air and reflect on how far you have come. Early mornings are also great for creative thinking, so plan your day. Positively starting the day leaves you open for significant progress and achievements.

Create a routine. 

A daily routine is crucial for lasting recovery. This is why, from the moment you enter treatment, every minute of the day is scheduled—boredom and downtime breed temptation, which can lead to a recurrence of use. By setting goals and living with intention, you create structure and encourage lasting recovery.

Find beauty wherever you look. 

Everywhere you look, there is at least one thing that will make you smile. It can be a picture of your kids, a butterfly in the bushes, or a puppy playing with a toy. Focusing on something that makes you smile lowers stress levels and releases feel-good chemicals in the brain. 

Make time daily to journal.

People in recovery are strongly urged to journal every day. Writing down your feelings, cravings, worries, and progress is a great way to process and reflect on the day. A problem often seems unsolvable, but seeing it on paper can bring new insight. Above all, journaling lets you look back and see how far you have come in recovery.

Listen to calming music.

Commutes, for example, can be very stressful. Adding intense music can intensify the body’s stress. But, choosing calming music reduces stress and relapse cravings. Music also gives subconscious cues telling your mind how to feel. 

Common sources of stress

Exercise every day.

A good workout or brisk walk is the ultimate calming technique. Many people overlook the importance of physical activity. It reduces stress by lowering cortisol levels, releasing endorphins, and improves sleep. Exercise can also boost self-confidence, making it a win-win. 

Spend time with supportive friends and family. 

It can be difficult when struggling with stress and addiction. However, help from supportive friends and family can get you through. When women spend time with their children or friends, it releases oxytocin, a natural stress reliever. A strong social support group reduces stress and relapse risks.

Do breathing exercises.

One quick way to calm down when stress becomes overwhelming is to breathe. Taking deep breaths activates the parasympathetic nervous system. As a result, your heartbeat slows, and your cortisol levels decrease, which alleviates stress. There are various breathing exercises, so find the one for you.

Cut back on caffeine.

Caffeine is a stimulant in coffee, soda, and energy drinks. And like drugs and alcohol, people build a tolerance to it. But, caffeine can make you jittery and anxious, which can impact stress levels. 

Practice holistic therapies

Holistic therapies such as meditation, reiki, and yoga can all reduce stress levels. Meditating doesn’t have to be sitting on a pillow in your room. Take a walk on the beach and let the breeze take the stress with it. Yoga helps you be mindful of every muscle in your body and know how to relax during stressful moments.

Treating Stress and Addiction

Because addiction is strongly affected by stress, substance use disorder treatment must involve therapies for stress management. However, most comprehensive therapies include a form of stress management. 

Behavioral therapies.

Therapies such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) help those in recovery recognize negative behavior patterns and responses. Modifying these harmful behaviors is valuable in managing stress and addiction cravings. Trauma-focused CBT specifically helps those with PTSD work through the trauma, which reduces stress and relapse risks.

Peer support.

Peer support groups and 12-step groups are a big part of addiction treatment. These groups encourage recovery through accountability, motivation, and commitment. The support received and given in support groups decreases stress and relapse rates.

Finding Treatment at Sana Lake Behavioral Wellness Center

When you decide to enter treatment, it is crucial to talk about the effects of both stress and addiction. Information like this ensures your treatment plan includes stress and addiction management as well as stress and relapse prevention. Contact us and find out how to start your recovery journey today.