How Does Stress Affect Addiction?

When a person feels stress, they are emotionally and mentally uncomfortable. They will feel afraid and nervous, and even depressed. The mind can bring on stress responses in the body when someone is going through difficulties. The autonomic nervous system plays a significant role in how a person reacts to stress in the body.

The ANS is composed of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems that are responsible for numerous “flight or fight” responses. Not all stress is bad. For example, we must feel stress if a car is speeding towards us so we can move fast, or if we cannot see where we are walking, so we do not hurt ourselves. In general, stress reactions of the autonomic nervous system are supposed to release hormones to keep us awake and alive during dangerous situations.  

The Underlying Element in All Stress-Provoking Situations is Fear

The phrase “I am stressed out,” means this person is likely experiencing more responsibility, running late for work, or facing serious health or financial concerns. The underlying element in all stress-provoking situations is FEAR. Stress can be associated with how healthy a person’s emotional and mental health is and if they are supporting their mind and feelings to combat stress overloads. The American Psychological Association reiterates how the ANS function, what stress hormones are released, and why they are necessary. 

The autonomic nervous system has a direct role in physical response to stress. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) make up the ANS. When the body is stressed, the SNS causes a “fight or flight” response. The SNS signals the adrenal glands to release hormones called adrenalin (epinephrine) and cortisol. These hormones, together with direct actions of autonomic nerves, cause the heart to beat faster, respiration rate to increase, and other necessary body reactions to support flight or fight reactions. (APA)

How Does Stress Affect Addiction?

How Does Stress Affect Substance Abuse?

Addiction is a complex disease of the mind and emotions. When someone has become addicted to a drug, alcohol, or a behavior (gambling, shopping, food, sex, etc.), they are trying to change how they feel by ingesting a substance or doing an activity that takes their minds off themselves. As we know, stress results from the autonomic nervous system attempting to preserve the vitality of the individual’s livelihood. Stress hormones are released when a person feels threatened by an outside source or when their own mind convinces their body that they are in danger. 

We can safely say that addicts, unfortunately, live in a state of stress-induced fear and use drugs or behaviors to feel better. Stress is the most common instigator of why someone drinks or drugs. Not everyone will get addicted to their stress reliever, but many people will. For someone who is struggling with how they feel in everyday life, they are under stress. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a severe mental health condition that stems from experiencing a serious traumatic event.

How Does Trauma Affect Substance Use Disorder?

Most if not all people who are addicted to substances or behaviors have a history of trauma. The National Institute on Mental Health writes how going through a traumatic event (especially in teenagers) can push a person to develop a substance use disorder (addiction).

Particularly, the link between trauma exposure and substance abuse has been well-established. In surveys of adolescents receiving treatment for substance abuse, more than 70% of patients had a history of trauma exposure. (NIMH)

How to Reduce Stress Without Drugs? 

The quickest way to reduce stress is to listen to music, exercise, eat a good meal, and support your spiritual life. For exercise and listening to music, these activities release dopamine, a feel-good brain chemical that our bodies make for us to help minimize pain, stress, and sadness. Similarly, dopamine is released when we eat food, especially sweets.

Also, when we spend time meditating or engaging our thought-life with spirituality, our brains release serotonin, another feel-good brain chemical. Both dopamine and serotonin lower stress naturally. Therefore, the more frequently we listen to music, work out, eat well, and connect to a higher power or God, the less stress we will have. 

Garden State Treatment Center and Drug Addiction Recovery 

If you catch addiction early on, there is a good chance that your brain can be restored to a healthy state of functioning with no permanent damage being done.

At Garden State Treatment Center, we help our clients overcome addiction by teaching them relapse prevention techniques, providing them with intensive therapy, and introducing them to the 12 step model of recovery. In addition, we offer medication-assisted treatment options whenever necessary and help each client develop a thorough and personalized aftercare plan. Contact us today to learn more.