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Does Stress in Substance Use Lead to Addiction?

Does Stress in Substance Use Lead to Addiction?

Everyone knows that stress can lead to all kinds of physical ailments. Conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, and depression are common results of sustained stress. But did you know that it can also lead to addiction? It can and does. The goal of this post is to help you understand stress and how to avoid letting it lead you down the path of addiction.

What is Stress?

Stress is basically your reaction to life situations that affects how your mind and body responds. When you are in a situation that causes you discomfort, physically or emotionally, there are some typical ways that your body responds:

  • Your heart rate increases
  • Your blood pressure goes up
  • Your body produces more hormones and neurotransmitters

This happens automatically and is a result of your body preparing for some kind of challenge.

What Are the Different Types of Stress?

Stress is typically broken down into two categories – acute stress (short-term), and chronic stress (long-term).

Acute stress

Short-term stress can actually be a good thing. For example, the butterflies that you may have before you stand up in front of a group of people to give a presentation works to give you focus and alertness. Additionally, the pressure that you feel to perform well on a test can motivate you to prepare more thoroughly.

Chronic stress

Stress-related problems usually stem from chronic, or on-going, stress. This type of stress results from difficult situations that don’t end quickly. Things like broken relationships, family dysfunction, low self-esteem, loneliness, financial problems, chronic medical conditions, and other long-term issues can cause chronic stress.

How Does Chronic Stress Lead to Addiction?

In some cases, people who suffer from chronic stress begin to use substances as a way to ease the stress. What people use as self-medication for their stress levels can be a variety of things, from food to behavioral addictions like gambling or shopping, to illicit or prescription drugs or alcohol. Using substances or engaging in addictive behaviors alleviates the feelings of stress for a short time, making it bearable for people suffering from chronic stress.

Unfortunately, once a person begins to use substances as a way to self-medicate their stress, they are on a slippery slope that can quickly lead to addiction. While it’s true that using substances will ease stress in the short-term, the stress returns even stronger once the substance wears off. Additionally, the more an individual uses a substance, the more tolerance they build toward it. That makes it necessary to use more and more of the substance to achieve the same effects. Thus, the downward spiral into addiction begins to take hold.

How Can You Avoid Addiction and Deal with Stress Effectively?

The good news about stress and addiction is that you don’t have to turn to substances to cope with chronic stress. The best way to avoid addiction that is related to stress is to not self-medicate in the first place. There are other, healthy ways to deal with it.

Seeking therapy with a professional psychologist, therapist or counselor can provide you with coping skills to help you lower your stress in healthy ways. Additionally, a therapist can help you navigate and deal with any underlying issues that may be adding to your stress.

Some of the common ways of coping that a therapist may explore with you include getting more exercise, making dietary changes, meditation or yoga, finding healthy ways to express yourself like journaling and making art, or other activities that help you deal with your stress.

Things won’t change immediately, but you will learn what works best for you and it will reduce your stress and help you avoid behaviors that can lead you to addiction.

Finding Help for Addiction

If you or a loved one is suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, whether caused by stress or something else, it may be time to seek help. A drug or alcohol addiction treatment program, like those we offer at Life of Purpose, can help you with your addiction and provide you with the tools you need to cope with any underlying issues.

Don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need. When you complete addiction treatment, you will have learned what types of coping skills work best for you, and with ongoing therapy, you will be able to live a happier, less stressed, and addiction-free life.


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