Understanding the Link Between Stress and Addiction

A stressed husband hunched over a table with his laptop and bills; stress can lead to the development of addiction.

When it comes to addiction, pinpointing the issues or emotions that cause you to turn to your substance of choice is often the most difficult part. Although you might be aware of your addiction and want to get rid of it, you may not know the best way to treat it because you don’t fully understand the root of the problem. Perhaps you have tried to curb your addiction before but relapsed due to these factors. You may have even tried to take up other hobbies in an attempt to distract yourself from using, but the tactic has eventually failed.

Mental illness and genetics are not the only causes of substance addiction. For many, addiction can be traced back to underlying issues within someone’s personal or professional life. People do not just wake up as addicts; it is a habit that forms over time. One of the largest causes of addiction is stress. Whether it be social, financial, professional, or physical, the need to get away from life’s stressors is what causes people to seek an escape. It is therefore important that individuals understand what is causing them to turn to drugs or alcohol and the effect that stress has on their addiction.

Understanding Stress

There are two types of stress: short-term stress and long-term stress. Types of short-term stress are things such as a tough day at work, a fight with your friend, or disagreement with your spouse. Long-term stress is caused by prolonged issues such as when that tough day at work leads to your termination, a fight with your friend ends in a permanently broken friendship, or continuous disagreements with your spouse end in divorce.

Short-term stress can be beneficial in that it helps you push past your comfort zone to rebound from a tough day or fix a relationship. It becomes harmful when it is not addressed, magnifying it into a long-term issue that can affect both you and your relationships.

Long-Term Stress Leads to Addiction

It is not guaranteed that long-term stress will lead to addiction, but there is definitely a correlation between the effects of stress and the reason why people seek out substances. Drug and alcohol often become the coping mechanism for individuals suffering with long-term stress because it can alter their mood and provide an escape. Interestingly enough, long-term stress has a similar effect to the brain that drugs and alcohol abuse does. Because the brain reacts to long-term stress in the same manner as it does to drugs and alcohol, these substances become a natural craving to relieve the mental pain.

The Vicious Cycle

Once drugs or alcohol have been utilized as a mechanism to relieve the initial pain of stress, an addiction has been born. Not only do you develop a mental craving for the substance, but you develop a biochemical response for it as well. When you feel stress, the craving for drugs or alcohol arrives as the potential antidote. At this point, not only does long-term stress trigger the craving, but any form of stress does. Pouring yourself a drink after a tough day at work or reaching for the needle when you have a fight with a friend becomes an automatic response. You lose the ability to confront daily stressful situations and properly process emotions.

Seek Help

Take a moment of self-reflection. Chances are that you are reading this article because you are worried for either yourself or a loved one. If this cycle sounds familiar or if you find yourself unable to cope with the normal stress of life without the use of a substance, then it is time to seek help. There is a way to break the vicious cycle and become better, but it requires personal effort and external support.