There’s no doubt many people live lives full of anxiety and stress. With life oftentimes becoming a series of fast-paced events and stressors, it’s easy to see why so many people are complaining of feeling stressed out and tired. Even those who experience short-term stressors, such as final exams at college or beginning a new job, can wear themselves out.

A question that comes up frequently among medical professionals is, “Does stress lead to drug use and abuse?”  In particular, does long-term stress lead to someone reaching for alcohol or drugs?

Studies have been done over the years concerning this topic, and many results indicate that yes, stress is a definite risk factor when it comes to drug use and abuse. Essentially, study results show that when a person feels stressed out over time, it can feel so uncomfortable or painful that the temptation to reach for alcohol or drugs increases.

Under normal circumstances, a person may not have any desire to drink or do drugs, but due to the increased stress load, they just want some relief and think that using drugs is their best option.

In one study done after Sept. 11, 2001, in New York City, it was found that residents of the city had higher rates of drug use after the stressful, traumatic event, especially those who had used drugs in the past. Researchers found that some people turned to cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana after the event, with the highest increase coming in terms of alcohol, at 24.6 percent higher than before Sept. 11.

This study is one of several that show that people who undergo high levels of stress or trauma may indeed be more apt to reach for a substance to try to alleviate anxiety or distress.

With newer and better brain-imaging tools, researchers can now do brain scans of those who are under a lot of stress, as well as those who use alcohol or drugs to cope with that stress.  They can study any correlation going on, examining things like addiction risk and reward.


How Stress Affects the Body

Stress is a normal response to some situations or experiences. The body responds to stress by releasing various chemicals that help you cope with that stress.

For example, if you’re going on your first date, you may become anxious. It can be stressful, but your body goes into action, releasing hormones that help you get through it.

However, a problem can occur when you remain in stressful situations or don’t really know how to cope with them in a healthy way. If your job is highly stressful, and you don’t know how to help your body stay in a semi-relaxed state, it can wear your mental and physical body down. Over time, you can find yourself exhausted and dealing with negative emotions like anger, frustration, or depression.

This is when some people will turn to alcohol or drugs in an attempt to relieve the feelings of anxiety or other emotions associated with chronic stress. While some people may only temporarily use substances, some will go on to become addicted to them.

The Correlation Between Stress and Drug Use

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports various correlations and facts about stress and drug abuse. After reviewing various studies, they report that those who face consistent stressors in life have a greater chance of using drugs to cope with those stressors, and as a result, can become addicted to such drugs. People who are in recovery also have a greater chance of relapse when faced with a stressful situation.

Some studies even show that heroin users are more apt to keep using heroin if they live a life of high stress levels.  This is one reason why learning stress-reduction techniques is crucial for those trying to recover from opioid addiction.

Chronic stress also affects your cognitive function and memory.  Over time, if you’re consistently under stressful situations, your brain is not able to function at its best, and this can cause you to reach for alcohol or drugs.

Can Addiction Lead to Stress?

Now that we know that chronic stress can lead to addiction, you may wonder if addiction can lead to higher amounts of stress. The answer is yes. When you become addicted to a substance, your stress levels increase mentally, emotionally, and physically. You can be faced with all sorts of things that can cause your body to go into stress mode, including feelings of fear, depression, shame, regret, etc.  You can become emotionally unstable, which can cause you problems in your relationships or at work. And, you can suffer physically, as drugs can cause serious harm to the body.

So, essentially, stress can lead to abusing alcohol or drugs, and dependence on alcohol or drugs can lead to higher amounts of stress. Can you see how it’s a “both/and” kind of issue?  Stress and drug abuse or addiction can go hand in hand, regardless of which one came first.

Treating Stress

A variety of stress-reduction techniques are available that you can learn on your own or from a qualified therapist. Some of the more popular techniques are:

  • Deep breathing excercises
  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation
  • Reaching out for support
  • Exploring nature
  • Going for a walk or moving around (yoga, etc.)Listening to soothing music
  • Visualizing a calming scene

Each of these will require a commitment on your part, and perhaps some practice. Learning how to handle stress as it arises does take some practice. However, once you learn what works for you, you’ll feel less stress and be less likely to turn to a substance for temporary relief.

Treating Alcohol or Drug Addiction

If you’ve become addicted to alcohol or drugs, the good news is that treatment is available. Whether you started drinking or drugging due to high amounts of stress or not, you have the chance at a full recovery.

Through detoxification and addiction treatment, you’ll be able to get your mental and physical health back to where you want it to be.  Detoxing is the first phase of treatment, where your body will be ridding itself from the toxins associated with the drug. Then, more intensive addiction treatment will occur where you’ll be able to learn helpful recovery methods to help you maintain your sobriety.

In addition to learning about addiction, you’ll be able to process any issues you’re having with a therapist. You’ll also be able to learn stress-reduction techniques for the times when you’re facing a stressful situation.

Take a Step Toward Recovery Today

Learning how to handle life when it becomes stressful or challenging without picking up alcohol or a drug is one of the best things you can do for yourself.  If you’re struggling with an addiction, please know that you’re not alone. There is help available, and all you have to do is take that first step toward getting it.

We’re here, and we care. Give us a call today so we can discuss your particular situation and options for getting free from addiction.

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