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Is Stress a Factor of Your Addiction?

When it feels like your life is falling apart and stress is the only emotion running through your body, you may depend on addictive substances to detach from the real world and avoid reality. Life’s challenges cumulate and stress can play a large role in addiction.

Why Do People Do Drugs?

There are different reasons people may become involved with drug and alcohol abuse. Experts in the field explain that “the reason that people engage in activity that can become addictive in the first place is to experiment because of the social environment, or achieve a feeling of euphoria or to relieve an emotional state of dysphoria.” Dysphoria is a profound sense of unease or unhappiness with your current life circumstances. When stress occurs and dysphoria feels all-encompassing, a substance that can detach you from the world and soften reality becomes a leading coping mechanism. This form of coping risks causing further issues like substance use disorders (SUD) and severe addiction. While peer pressure and a social escape are common excuses, there is usually a deep-rooted issue that leads to the addictive nature of substance use.

Whatever reason that drives the substance use in the first place, the behavior sought is the same; a high. When an individual takes part in what experts call “reward-seeking behavior,” anything from sex, indulgent food, or gambling, they are seeking the same experience that an individual who drinks alcohol or takes drugs does, to feel pleasure. When someone seeks relief through a high or euphoria by using drugs, it is referred to as reward-seeking behavior.

Link Between Stress and Addiction

It’s likely that stress factors in your addiction. Individuals with addiction issues or substance use disorders often experience extremely high “highs” and intensely low “lows”. When a person who is likely to use drugs or drink alcohol is experiencing stress, they do not just feel stressed out about the source of stress, they feel hopeless about everything in their life and are likely to pursue substance use to feel better.

When a person consistently turns to drugs or alcohol when they feel stressed out, it is harder to find relief, because they have developed a tolerance from their consistent drug or alcohol use. It is important to consider that while an individual may develop a tolerance to the substance and the behavior itself, needing more of the substance to reach the same level of escape from their dysphoria, it is critical to know “the fact that the person does not develop a tolerance to the emotional low they feel afterward.” This means that the user’s stress is not diminished and stressful feelings can worsen rather than improve. In essence, “…rather than return to ‘normal’, the person reverts to a deeper state of dysphoria” and “…the person ends up experiencing a deeper and deeper low as the brain’s reward circuitry reacts to the cycle of intoxication and withdrawal.”

Risk Factors For Addiction

Addiction is complex. Drug addiction is a chronic brain disease that results in new compulsive tendencies and characteristic behaviors to find and consume the drug of choice. One of the most obvious signs of addiction is continuing to use even though enjoyment, relief, and reward are no longer present.

While stress can ignite substance use, some people are more susceptible to using substances when they are stressed due to genetics. Some individuals who are more susceptible to drug addiction than others have reported feeling addicted the first time they used the substance. Experts report that the “heritability of addictions is around 40-60% and that genetics ‘provide pre-existing vulnerabilities to addiction [and] increased susceptibility to environmental risk factors.’” Environmental risk factors include stress and unprecedented life circumstances.

Signs of Substance Abuse

If you know that a loved one who is susceptible to addiction is going through a difficult time, it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of substance abuse. Everyone expresses their stress differently, but “usually the outward behaviors of the person … are the obvious symptoms of addiction. Those behaviors are primarily centered around the addict’s impaired control” and can include:

  • Excessive frequency of drug use despite trying to stop
  • Increased time using the substance
  • Requiring more time to recover from the substance use
  • Continued use despite persistent problems
  • A narrowing of focus on rewards linked to addiction
  • Inability to take strides to recover
  • Inability to remain abstinent

Stress plays a huge role in addiction. It’s important to develop healthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress to avoid the risk of substance abuse. At Boardwalk Recovery Center, we explore our client’s addictions and help them build a healthy foundation for handling stress by removing substances from the equation and allowing healing to emerge.

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