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Stress is a part of life that everyone must deal with. While it certainly isn’t pleasant, the presence of stress is often necessary in our daily lives. Stress motivates us to achieve our goals or take steps to eliminate the stressor. However, too much stress can have drastic negative impacts on our mental and physical health. 

The negative effects can often be worsened if we’re prone to addiction or already struggling with substance use disorder (SUD). Understanding the ways in which stress impacts us and how we can better manage stress can help us to become more aware of how stress increases our risk of developing an addiction. 

What Is Stress?

Stress is the brain and body’s response to a challenge or demand. It is a product of the hormones our brains produce when faced with a difficult or daunting task. In everyday conversation, stress typically has a negative connotation. However, there is an evolutionary reason for stress’s presence in our lives. The “fight or flight” response stems from stress, and it’s something that has kept mankind alive for millennia. 

There are different kinds of stress that people may experience. Short-term stress is one that’s experienced with a deadline or upcoming function that may prove to be beneficial, as it pushes us to meet those goals. Once the goal is met, the stress dissipates, and we’re able to continue on with our lives. 

Long-term or chronic stress, however, is different. Chronic stress lasts for weeks, months, or sometimes even longer. Chronic stress can be triggered by an unrewarding and unending routine, sudden and difficult changes in life, or traumatic events that lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While short-term stress can be rewarding, chronic stress is not, and people who experience chronic stress should seek the help of a professional. 

Stress and Addiction

Chronic stress or significant stress endured in childhood has been linked to a higher likelihood of developing SUD. Understanding the role that stress can play in addiction, recovery, and relapse can help us be better equipped to deal with stress on our path to recovery. 

Chronic Stress and Substance Use

Chronic stress changes our brains on a chemical level and can impact our ability to manage even short-term stress. When in a constant state of stress, the levels of dopamine and serotonin in our brains are thrown out of balance. These chemicals are essential to mood stabilization and happiness, so an imbalance can greatly affect our mental state. 

Often, people who endure chronic stress also develop anxiety and/or depression because of their dopamine imbalance. Both depression and anxiety can greatly impact our susceptibility to addiction. When experiencing depression or anxiety, many people will turn to substances to help dull their feelings, which can lead to SUD. 

Chronic Stress and Relapse

Recovery is an extremely delicate time for any individual. However, those experiencing — or that have experienced — chronic stress may have a particularly difficult time during recovery. As previously mentioned, chronic stress can affect our brain’s ability to interact positively with dopamine, which can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. Recovery is already an extremely demanding time, and battling one of these disorders alongside it may seem impossible. Due to this, some people turn to substances to give themselves a quick high without addressing the underlying issues caused by stress. 

Relapse is an unfortunate truth of recovery, but the goal should always be to avoid it. If we’re battling chronic stress, anxiety, depression, or another mental health issue in recovery, it’s essential to also address those aspects. If left unchecked, they could prevent us from achieving the full recovery that we’re working toward. One of the best ways to do this is to find a holistic treatment approach that takes our individual needs into consideration. 

In addition to holistic treatment, another way to prevent relapse is to mitigate our exposure to stressful situations. Substance use can alter our brain chemistry, which can make even small stressors feel large. When in recovery, it’s best practice to be as delicate with our mental health as possible. Surrounding ourselves with a support system, practicing self-care, and giving ourselves the space to process all our emotions will help us re-learn how to manage day-to-day stressors without substances. It can often be a difficult process, but it’s necessary for achieving lifelong sobriety.

Managing Stress

It’s important to have coping skills in place for stress so that, when it arises, we aren’t caught off guard. Often, even small changes in our everyday lives can help mitigate the extent that we experience stress. Some coping skills include:

  • Regular exercise: Even a brief outdoor walk can help us decompress and stay physically and mentally fit.
  • Proper nutrition: A balanced diet is essential to a well-rounded self. Ensuring our bodies are getting the nutrients they need can help us be prepared for what life brings us.
  • Rest: Taking time and space to restore our minds and bodies can help us deal with stress. Life can be demanding, but we must give ourselves adequate time away from work and other stressors to simply live. 
  • Communicate: Whether it’s with a licensed professional or a close friend, talking about what’s causing us stress can help us to deal with it. 

There’s no one correct way to deal with stress. It may take lots of trial and error before we can understand what works best for us as individuals. The most important thing, however, is that we actively work to improve our relationship with stress without the use of substances. 

As the world continues to move faster and faster, stress becomes all the more present in our daily lives. While stress doesn’t always have to be bad, too much stress can negatively impact our mental health. This can lead to a variety of issues, including anxiety, depression, substance use disorder, and more. Understanding the way in which we interact with stress and how it plays a role in our substance use could be key to our recovery. Finding ways to deal with stress without the use of substances is an important step on the road to recovery, though not an easy one. To learn more, call us today at (760) 492-6509.