Stress and addiction go hand in hand. On one side of the equation, experiencing chronic stress can greatly impact an individual’s likelihood of developing a substance abuse disorder. And subsequently, those with substance abuse disorders are more likely to suffer from chronic stress in their daily lives.
The cycle of stress and addiction is one that seems never-ending. Let’s break it down.
Simply speaking, stress is the feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to cope with mental and emotional trauma. Stress is our body’s natural response to pressure. When stressed we release high amounts of cortisol, the primary stress hormone. As cortisol is surging through your body, it is common to feel:
Stress is a reaction that people experience when they encounter different changes in their life. Because of this, it is common for stress to be a common trigger for experiencing addiction, and/or setbacks when in recovery.
Addiction is a treatable yet chronic disease of the brain system.American Society of Addiction Medicine
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a treatable yet chronic disease of the brain system. Addiction is a complex interaction between brain circuits, and it includes a system of rewards, motivation, and memory. An individual will crave a specific substance or behavior, and they will engage in compulsive behaviors regardless of their harmful consequences.
Does Stress Cause Addiction?
Stress is a key factor in causing addiction. When an individual mixes stressful life events, poor coping skills, a need to escape, and the craving for a release, they are more likely to impulsively self-medicate with illicit substances. But the relief for this is short-lived, which causes the cycle to continue day in and day out.
It is important to note that every individual experiences stress in a different way, and its symptoms can differ from person to person. But with that being said, stress is not the only key factor in causing addiction, as there are plenty of people who suffer from stress but do not have a substance abuse disorder.
The Stages of a Stress Response
There are 3 potential stages of the stress response: (1) Alarm, (2) Resistance, and (3) Exhaustion.
The fight-or-flight response is activated. This is an automatic physiological reaction to a stressful and/or frightening situation. The threat causes the sympathetic nervous system to trigger an acute stress response to prepare them to flee (aka run) or fight back.
If the body still perceives that there is a stressful situation, it will continue to mobilize resources to resist the stress. This can be anything from releasing adrenaline to developing a craving for a substance. It is in this stage where stress and drug abuse are linked.
Eventually, the body will start to break down if the stressful situation continues. When this happens, the body will become vulnerable to multiple different diseases and chronic ailments.
Stress & Substance Abuse: Putting It Into Perspective
Again, not all individuals who experience extreme stress develop substance abuse issues. But stress is a known risk factor in starting an addiction, for a variety of different reasons. Here are some statistics that can put the link between stress and addiction into perspective.
- According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, individuals with all types of psychological disorders have up to a 50% higher rate of substance abuse than those who do not suffer from a mental illness. Additionally, those with mental illnesses report higher levels of stress. Scientists believe that this happens because those who develop mental illness have a number of shared risk factors for developing substance abuse disorders, such as similar neurobiological pathways and different genetic associations.
- Trauma during our early childhood is a key factor in developing chronic stress later on in life. Psychology Today reports that high levels of stress at a young age can negatively impact the genes that control the body’s stress system.
- Depending on the situation, a person’s workplace provides routine and constant exposure to stress. The demands on the job, the ability to have control over decisions, and support within the workplace can cause enhanced feelings of stress, which can lead to someone wanting to escape via substance abuse.
- Stress is also tied to motivation. Research from Psychology Today found that adverse childhood experiences, like domestic violence, family dysfunction, and abuse have an increased motivation to use illicit substances.
Humans are in no way strangers to stress, but it’s how we manage the stress that is important. If you are experiencing high levels of stress and are looking for help, Silicon Beach Behavioral Health is here for you. From our treatment centers in Los Angeles, our co-ed mental health programs are an ideal solution for learning to manage stress.
To learn more about our programs, call to speak with a member of our team today.