Stress: An All-Encompassing Cause of Addiction

From anger to grief to even happiness, a wide range of feelings can lead a person to use drugs and alcohol for self-medication, potentially leading to addiction. An emotion crucial to discuss when talking about addiction is one of the most common emotions experienced today: stress. Stress can stem from a variety of external factors in your life, but it can also be caused by internal feelings such as anxiety, insecurity, grief, and anger. By understanding the complicated role that stress plays in your life and how it can lead to addiction, you can begin to prioritize stress management to look after your overall health and wellbeing.

Defining Stress

Depending on who you ask, stress may have a different definition given specific situations and feelings. Stress can lead to a variety of symptoms that affect your mental and physical health. One definition of stress described by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation.” This definition clearly explains the possible consequences of stress on the body and how stress can play into the development of diseases, such as addiction.

There are different types of stress, as outlined by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH). These include routine stress, stress caused by negative change, and traumatic stress.

  1. Routine Stress: This type of stress includes stress caused by work, family, school, and other daily responsibilities that you encounter.
  1. Negative Change: Stress brought on by negative change may include going through a divorce, losing your job, or having an illness.
  1. Traumatic Stress: This type of stress stems from a traumatic event such as assault, war, a major accident, or a natural disaster that puts your life in severe danger. Traumatic stress can be temporary or may develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, people can experience stress in two different ways:

  1. Acute Stress: This is short-term stress that goes away quickly. You feel it when you slam on the brakes, have a fight with your partner, or ski down a steep slope. It helps you manage dangerous situations. It also occurs when you do something new or exciting. All people have acute stress at one time or another.
  1. Chronic Stress: This is stress that lasts for a more extended period. You may have chronic stress if you have money problems, an unhappy marriage, or trouble at work. Any type of stress that goes on for weeks or months is chronic stress. You can become so used to chronic stress that you don't realize it is a problem. 

Where Does Stress Come From?

The three types of stress outlined by the NIH can give you a good indication of where stress comes from. However, it is crucial to outline how other emotions can play into stress specifically. Common symptoms of stress include emotional changes meaning that you may experience intense emotions or mood changes while undergoing chronic stress. You may begin to feel angry, upset, frustrated, or even fearful that the stress may not end. These emotions can begin to feed off of each other and exacerbate your feelings. When this happens, it can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety, causing you to feel overwhelmed as a whole.

Effects of Stress on the Body

Stress is a response in the human body that evolved over time as a means of protection. This evolution is why many individuals have a fight-or-flight response when they perceive potential danger. The fight-or-flight response is an evolutionary response that helped your ancestors stay alive in times of trouble. However, while stress can be good, chronic stress can have negative consequences on your body, affecting you not only physically but mentally as well. These symptoms can cause severe discomfort, especially when experienced long-term.

Common effects of stress on the body include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Headaches
  • Lowered immune system
  • Problems sleeping
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Changes in weight and appetite
  • Back pain
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability or hostility
  • Cravings for drugs and alcohol

Stress and Addiction

Various studies have been done showing that stress is one of the most common causes of addiction. In fact, acute stress can potentially put you at risk for addiction. Symptoms of stress often cause you to isolate, feel down, have symptoms of anxiety and depression, and cause mood swings. When you experience these emotions and feelings, it can put you at a greater risk of seeking drugs and alcohol to cope with these effects. 

When your body is undergoing stress, it seeks out activities that will provide relief or some sense of pleasure. When you consume drugs and alcohol, your brain’s reward center will send out higher levels of dopamine and serotonin, the common “feel-good” chemicals. Due to this temporary relief, your body will continue craving the substances because of the pleasure they induce. Without proper stress management, this cycle will continue until you are entirely dependent on drugs or alcohol for any form of relief or happiness. As the process of pleasure-seeking continues, the cycle of addiction begins. Stress management is crucial to reduce your risk of addiction and heal. 

Stress is an emotion that can stem from and cause a variety of other emotions. The feeling of stress can be an accumulation of unresolved emotional issues over time, which is why stress management is so crucial for your wellbeing. Without learning to cope with stress properly, you can set yourself up for potentially developing an addiction as you search for temporary relief from symptoms. Self-medication is perhaps one of the most common reasons that addiction develops, and it often stems from the symptoms of negative emotions. NorthStar Transitions can help you overcome stress and learn to manage it properly. Our team can also help you achieve sobriety and learn to maintain it over time through our individualized treatment programs. Our variety of treatment modalities combined with our beautiful Colorado facility will give you the perfect place to take a breath and heal. Call us today at (303) 558-6400 to start your path to real-life recovery.

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