Stress is a normal feeling and, in many ways, can be healthy. Stress motivates you to work harder and to achieve goals. Too much stress, however, can have profoundly negative impacts on your physical, emotional and mental health. One of those impacts is an increase in your risk for developing an addiction. To improve your overall health, and to avoid the trap of substance abuse and addiction, learn more about how stress can lead you down a dangerous path.
Stress and Addiction Connection
There is plenty of evidence that stress can lead to addiction. Researchers have even found that a hormone called CRF, which is released in the brain when you feel stress, is also released by most drugs. There is a clear, biochemical connection between stress and the response of the brain to drug use, but also plenty of other evidence that stress can be a risk factor for addiction.
A recent Canadian survey has added to this evidence. It looked specifically at work stress and found that people using drugs or abusing alcohol had significantly higher stress at work. Also important was the fact that these people had less ability than their peers for mitigating the stress in healthful ways. People surveyed who have good coping skills for stress were much less likely to abuse substances.
Stress and Self-Soothing
Researchers have made the connection many times: stress is a risk factor for substance abuse and addiction. But why does one lead to the other? If you are stressed, you are likely to engage in some kind of behavior that soothes you or makes you feel better. Some of us have learned how to do this in healthful ways. We go for a run, go to a yoga class, meditate, meet up with friends to talk, or read a good book with a hot cup of tea.
Unfortunately, some people turn to bad habits to feel better when stressed. The more stressed you are, the more likely you will be to find a quick, unhealthy fix. Drugs and alcohol can be relaxing, and at first they may help you feel better. But using substances to cope with stress can spiral quickly out of control. Soothing stress with something addictive isn’t limited to substance abuse. Some people might turn to food, shopping, gambling or some other activity that makes them feel better. These can also get out of control and turn into addictions if left unchecked.
Stress and Relapse
Stress is not just a factor that contributes to the beginning phases of addiction. It also plays a role in relapse. Addicts in recovery are more likely to relapse and start using again if they are under stress. This could be regular stress, such as what many people experience at work. It can also mean a single stressful event, such as the death of a family member. The stress triggers old habits and can lead an addict to start using again as a way to cope with the negative feelings.
Although stress is a definite risk factor for addiction, it does not mean that you have to fall into that trap. Many people live stressful and busy lives without become addicts. The important thing is to learn how to cope with stress in healthful ways. Find good options for relaxing, like working out or talking to a close friend about your problems. If these still don’t work for you, see your doctor for guidance and help. Sometimes we can’t cope with stress alone and we need a little assistance. Ask for help instead of turning to substance abuse.