Stress Management Overview
Whether we like it or not, there is no way to avoid stress in everyday life. Work deadlines, academic pressures, home life, social drama, high expectations, and disappointments all can create significant tension. Over time, this tension can pile up, and one may feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety. In order to minimize the effects of stress, people will use a variety of coping methods. Some people may exercise to combat the effects of stress, or may use meditation, music, or journaling to ground themselves.
However, some people use coping methods that have the potential to harm one’s health. One such example is the use of alcohol and other substances. While drugs and alcohol provide a temporary sense of calm and relief, relying on substances to deal with stress can lead to dependence and full-blown addiction. This article will dive deeper into the kinds of stress people experience, how stress and addiction are related, and the importance of stress management and treatment to minimize the risk of stress and addiction.
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Introduction to Stress and Addiction
Stress can be defined as a state of mental tension and worry that is caused by problems in one’s environment. This tension causes physical, emotional, and psychological strain that creates feelings of anxiety and being overwhelmed. When stress occurs, the mind and body go through significant and sudden changes. These changes include the following:
- an increase in heart rate and respiration
- greater focus and attention
- a decreased need to eat and sleep
- heightened senses and awareness of the environment
According to the National Institute on Mental Health (NAMI), there are three main types of stress: stress we regularly experience from our everyday lives, the stress we encounter as a result of a sudden negative situation, and the stress we encounter from a traumatic event such as a car accident, natural disaster, or death of a loved one. No matter the source of stress, it can cause us to be on edge and have a feeling that we can short-circuit at any moment.
In some ways, stress can be positive in our lives. For example, stress can give us the motivation to finish tasks and work. Also, stress can heighten problem-solving skills and foster growth and resilience. However, if people lack healthy coping skills to manage stress, the tension can accumulate and can significantly affect a person’s work, social and family life. When the pressure gets too overwhelming, people can turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. While substances can provide temporary relief, casual use can spiral out of control into addiction.
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What is the Relationship Between Stress and Addiction?
Stress and addiction have a complex relationship. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIH), up to 50 percent of people with mental illness will also experience a substance use disorder (SUD). Also, it is estimated that 60 percent of adolescents struggling with mental illness also have a SUD. While stress is a strong factor in people developing a drug addiction, not everyone who experiences stress will develop a substance abuse issue.
Is there any concrete connection between stress and addiction? Currently, there are three hypotheses that try to explain the connection between addiction and stress:
A popular hypothesis used to explain the stress-addiction connection is the self-medication hypothesis. It states that people who experience chronic levels of stress will use drugs and alcohol in an attempt to deal with anxiety and unpleasantness of stress. While this is true to a degree, it is not a solid connection. As stated, not everyone who experiences stress (even chronic stress) will develop a substance use disorders. In fact, drug addiction can develop for reasons other than stress.
Psychological Disorder Hypothesis
Another hypothesis that is used to explain the relationship between drug addiction and stress is the psychological disorder hypothesis. This explanation states that people prone to developing mental disorders are also prone to developing a drug and alcohol addiction. This is due to a number of factors, including environmental experiences, family history and genetics, and the shared neurological pathways that lead to the development of both types of disorders.
World Interpretation Hypothesis
The third and final hypothesis used to describe the connection between stress and substance abuse is the world interpretation hypothesis. This hypothesis suggests that the development of addiction is tied to how an individual interprets the events in their surroundings and the world in general. If people feel their experiences and actions as being within their control, the chances of them developing a SUD are low. However, if an individual feels threatened in their environment and feel they aren’t able to cope or control what they feel, they are vulnerable to developing an addiction to substances.
While all three hypotheses have some merit, none of them are definitive in regard to drawing a solid and consistent line between addiction and stress. Instead, the probability of someone developing an addiction as a result from stress should be looked at by an individual’s risk factors. Some of the most common risk factors that create chronic stress AND can make one more vulnerable to developing an addiction include the following:
- Loss of parent, sibling, or other loved one
- Abandonment and neglect
- Surviving a natural disaster
- Victim of gun violence or other violent acts
- Poor behavioral control
- Lack or absence of emotional control
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- General negative emotionality
Why Stress Treatment is Crucial to Addiction Recovery
No matter the source of stress or its risk factors, the key to minimizing the risk of developing an addiction is through stress treatment. Stress treatment and management are essential in the fact that one must uncover the underlying roots of their stress and how it contributes to addiction. Just as important, stress treatment gives people the healthy coping skills they need in order to minimize the chances of relapse once they finish treatment. The following are important components in a stress treatment program:
Exercise and Recreation Programs
A key link between minimizing stress and addiction recovery is regular exercise. Through an exercise and recreation program, people can lower the levels of anxiety they experience. Exercise produces neurotransmitters called endorphins which are the brain’s naturally produced “pain killers” that elevate mood and promote restful sleep. Exercise also helps develop a more positive outlook on treatment and diminishes the cravings for substances.
Mindful Meditation Practice
Another key component of a stress management program is mindful meditation practices. These practices can effectively reduce anxiety as well as depression, pain, and of course, stress. These techniques can include focused breathing, meditation, or yoga. Mindful practices help people focus on the here and now, and these practices require little training and can be done anywhere. Like exercise, mindful meditation practice is an effective coping skill to minimize the risk of relapse.
Therapy is a cornerstone component of stress treatment therapy. Therapy helps people struggling with stress uncover the underlying reasons why they feel anxious and gives them the tools to cope with those feelings in a healthy manner. Common therapies used include psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and trauma-focused CBT. Therapy is valuable both for effectively managing stress and for avoiding the use of drugs and alcohol when faced with environmental triggers or situations where there are temptations and urges to use substances.
Peer support groups are an excellent way to weaken the connections between stress and addiction. These groups help decrease stress levels and increase an individual’s accountability and responsibility for working a recovery program.
Our Stress and Addiction Recovery Center
Stress is a part of everyday life. Learning how to deal with stress without resorting to substance use effectively is critical to your long-term health. If your chronic stress has led to substance abuse, Inneraction’s stress and addiction recovery center can help. Our intensive outpatient treatment center uses evidence-based programs and services tailored to meet your unique needs.
Our experienced mental health professionals and counselors have over three decades of proven experience working with the unique needs and challenges of those struggling with a variety of mental health and substance abuse issues. Call Inneractions toll-free today and learn more about our stress treatment program.