The Relationship Between Stress and Addiction

It should come as no surprise that stress and addiction are closely related. When we're under stress, we seek out a method to deal with, and avoid uncomfortable feelings. Our mind and our bodies search for the easiest ways to reduce the stress.

While we all feel the strain of stress, we react to it in different ways. Some people handle it well on their own, some exercise, some meditate and unfortunately, some people turn to substances that can be easily abused.

The Connection

When we experience stressful situations, our bodies automatically release hormones that were designed to allow us to react to danger; the classic “fight or flight response,” also known as the acute stress response. In this situation, the heart pounds and breathing quickens.

Those under extreme stress may feel overwhelmed and are unable to cope with significant and unrelenting stress. Food, drugs, and alcohol all provide a release of the chemical dopamine and result in pleasurable emotions that contradict the stress.

Drugs and alcohol may provide a temporary calming effect, so a person may feel like their stress is gone. Unfortunately, this can lead to a dependence on the drugs or alcohol, at increasingly higher quantities, to help diminish stress levels.

Using these substances may help relieve the anxiety and tension, albeit, only in the short term. Unfortunately, when the drugs wear off, the person will experience the stress and unpleasant feelings again. Even people who are not hard-wired for addiction can be made dependent on drugs if they are stressed.

Supported by Research

Stress is a well-known risk factor in both the development of addiction and in addiction relapse, as published research reveals. [1]

  • One research group found that “before beginning substance use, the occurrence rate of various psychosocial stressors in opium addict patients was statistically higher than normal subjects in the last two-year period.” [1]
  • Studies have also discovered that stress levels contribute to the success of substance abuse recovery and actually lead to being vulnerable to
  • Stress was directly related to relapse, specifically in cocaine users. [2]
  • Stress can cause relapse even after a four to six-week drug-free period. [3]

Stress Management

All the data clearly points to the need for treatment of stress to reduce drug and alcohol dependence and prevent the occurrence of relapse.

If individuals believe they have problems with both stress and addiction, they should seek the assistance of a professional and incorporate these following suggestions in order to begin to live a sober life:

  • Ask for help. Alcohol and drug addiction rehab may include inpatient or outpatient care, individual or group therapy, and a 12-step program. You reduce stress or get clean alone.
  • Yoga, Meditation and Lifestyle Skills. These practices place a focus on mindfulness that allows you to be aware of your own thoughts and emotions. Meditation involves clearing your mind of stressful thoughts and focusing only on the present. By making lifestyle changes, studies demonstrate you can reduce your stress levels and gain control. [4]
  • Exercise. Regular exercise naturally makes you feel better by raising your body’s level of endorphins, which are linked to a positive mindset. These are the same endorphins your body releases while you abused substances. But when you exercise, you create a “natural high.” Your body will learn that it is capable of regulating its own brain chemistry and mood in healthy, natural ways.

A Final Thought

Stressful life events and ineffective coping strategies in addicts play a major role in the development of drug abuse and relapse. To help prevent the occurrence of severe stress and alcohol/drug abuse, skills such as stress prevention, must be taught.

Learning effective methods to manage stress is essential to long-term recovery. The addict must find a way to deal with stress in a healthy and productive manner so they will not revert to substance abuse when stress appears.





Audrey Beim holds two advanced degrees from major universities, including a Master's Degree in Psychology. She has over 20 years of experience in the health, wellness, nutritional and fitness categories and has used her expertise to write articles for media outlets such as Linfield Media and

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