Stress is something that pops up a lot in addiction recovery. It’s no secret why – stress is a known risk factor for developing an addiction. Of course, everyone has stress in their lives. Some day-to-day stress is normal, and can even be a good thing if it motivates you to be more productive.
There will also be times in your life when your stress levels are higher, such as a job loss. Too much stress can also have a negative impact on your mental, physical and emotional well-being.
People who are exposed to stress in early childhood or exposed to chronic stress at any time in life are most at risk. Stress can become a barrier to recovery and a risk factor for relapse. Managing stress should be a top priority if you are recovering from addiction.
What is the Connection Between Stress and Addiction?
There is a definite link between stress and substance use. Chronic stress can lead to anxiety, and both are risk factors for developing an addiction. Early stress or chronic stress causes changes in the brain, and these changes make it harder to manage and respond to stress. This is why once you are stressed, you feel like everything is piling up at once.
When these changes in the brain occur, they impact three key areas:
- Dopamine signaling. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that makes you feel good.
- Serotonin production. Serotonin is another chemical in the brain responsible for keeping your mood balanced.
- Melatonin release. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate your sleep.
When stress interferes with these processes, it harms the ability to feel happy, balanced and rested. And if you continue to feel stressed, it becomes easier to reach for a substance that makes you feel good in the moment. A glass of wine or a puff of marijuana, for example, can seem effective at ‘taking the edge off.’
However, your brain learns to count on these substances to feel good and relaxed, prompting you to use them more. As physical tolerance builds (now you need three glasses of wine instead of one), your body wants more. Now you are at war with these substances. Your brain wants them. Your body wants them. An addiction is forming.
Healthy Coping Mechanisms for Stress to Avoid Relapse
Since stress is a normal part of life, you can’t avoid it entirely. But it is a proven risk factor for relapse, so it’s important that you have some healthy ways to deal with stressful situations. Fortunately, you will learn many coping mechanisms in drug rehab, though it will be up to you to practice these strategies in the real world.
If you don’t feel ready to, you can always ‘step down’ to a lower level of care, such as an outpatient program, or live in a sober house. These options give you more time to practice stress reduction techniques and transition to your everyday life.
Here are some healthy ways to deal with stress in recovery:
- Eat healthy, nutritious meals that nourish your body
- Exercise in a way you enjoy, such as dancing, swimming, walking, playing sports, etc.
- Spend time outdoors in nature and strengthen your connection to yourself and/or a higher power
- Employ stress-relieving practices like deep breathing, meditation or journaling
- Get enough rest at night, typically 7 to 9 hours
- Learn to identify your stressors, so that you can deal with them right away
- Stay close to your support network and attend your self-help groups
Awakenings Treatment Center is an outpatient rehabilitation facility that helps clients rebuild their lives following addiction. We treat all types of substance use and mental health disorders, and we have a wide range of therapies to meet your unique needs. Contact us today to take the next step in your recovery.