The Relationship between Stress and Addiction

The Relationship between Stress and Addiction

The human brain typically utilizes stress as a substitute for drugs, which explains why dependent individuals or addicts tend to have conflict-seeking behavior. Then again, stress can also serve as a trigger to use and abuse drugs and alcohol. Past trauma, current peer pressure, and your inability to cope with the pressures of life can move you to use drugs as an escape from all your responsibilities and problems. In other words, stress begets drug abuse and addiction while drug abuse and addiction can make addicts seek out stress or conflict as a substitute for drugs when they’re not using it. It’s like a never-ending cycle where it’s moot to argue which causes which or which came first, like the chicken and egg dilemma.

A Strong Link between Substance Abuse and Stress

Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, but the correlation between stress and substance abuse that can lead to addiction is pretty strong nonetheless, necessitating further investigation. Stress can trigger substance abuse and substance abuse can trigger stress or at least use it as a substitute, like an endless feedback loop. Actually, the long-standing relationship between stress and addiction goes beyond excessive drug usage. Meanwhile, the phenomenon known as relapse, or succumbing to withdrawal symptoms after attempting to quit a certain drug, forms part of the journey towards becoming independent from your dependence to various chemical substances. To wit:

  • Stress and Substance Abuse: How substance abuse is defined depends on the type of substance being abused. It’s usually defined as something hazardous or harmful, like the abusive usage of an intoxicant. Substance abuse has different meanings for different people. As a rule of thumb and for the purpose of this article, it refers to abusing illicit drugs that can lead to addiction or overdose. It can also refer to using prescription medicine outside the dosage and instructions of the prescription or without medical supervision. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or SAMHSA, 24.6 million people have had illegal drug usage in 2013.
  • Meanwhile, stress is a risk factor that can lead to substance abuse and dependence. The more stressed out you are or the more susceptible you are to stress, the more vulnerable you’ll become in developing a drug abuse habit and drug addiction as well as alcoholism. There’s little proof to imply that specific stressor types can result in specific types of substance use disorders. The attempts to define the relationship between stress and substance abuse that leads to addiction indicate that such predictions aren’t possible currently due to subjectivity. With that said, certain correlations or associations can be made regardless.
  • People Deal with Stress Differently: Aside from stress triggers being available in many different shapes and sizes as well as levels, you also need to watch out for the fact that different people have different abilities to cope with stress. Funnily enough, this is also the case with drug addiction. Some people are likelier to become addicts than others. Although correlation doesn’t mean causations necessarily, those who handle stress more positively are likelier to handle drug usage more responsibly as well, even though it helps that their stress response isn’t to turn and drink excessively, snort cocaine lines, or smoke a cannabis joint. Drug abuse that leads to drug addiction is one of many coping mechanisms against stress.
  • The Relapse and Stress Connection: Even as you become committed to break from your dependence from drugs and/or alcohol, the urge to use those substances can rise up exactly because you’re in recovery. The first few weeks of rehab and detoxification are the hardest since you’ll be dealing with the peak strength of your withdrawal symptoms. With that in mind, stress is one of the triggers that can result in relapse. This makes sense since stress is one of the triggers that push one to become an addict in the first place.

Stress is a relapse trigger because it invokes emotions in you that can make you turn to drugs and alcohol for relief. This also makes stress an addiction trigger that led you to become an addict in the first place. It can turn you into an addict and keep you as one until you learn how to deal with it without resorting to substance abuse to cope. Everyone is faced with stress or pressures in some form or another, but some might not be able to take it without consuming something alcohol or taking drugs.

  • Stress and Health Statistics: Stress isn’t only a risk factor for substance abuse and addiction. It’s also accepted in the medical field that when you experience high stress levels such as when you go through a traumatic event or undergo prolonged periods of stress, you can end up developing nearly every psychological disorder, which includes substance use disorders. Nevertheless, stress can also happen when you undergo positive high-pressure events, such as adjusting to new living conditions, planning a wedding, or buying a new house. So sudden change you can’t acclimate to immediately, leading to an overreaction can be considered stress per Seyle’s definition of the term.
  • According to Lifeline Australia, 50 percent of Americans experience severe traumatic or stressful event but only less than 10 percent of them develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. Also, only less than 20 percent of them develop any kind of substance use disorders, such as drug addiction or alcoholism. 91 percent of Australian adults feel stressed in at least one important aspect of their lives, while 50 percent feel exceedingly stressed out about one part of their existence. According to Medibank, Australian employees also end up absent for about 3.2 working days annually because of stress, which costs the Australian economy about $14.2 billion in Australian dollars.
  • As for Britain, the Labor Force Survey claims that 442,000 British citizens who worked back in 2007 to 2008 believe they’ve experienced work-related stress at levels that make them sick or ill. About 13.7 million working days were also lost annually in the United Kingdom as a result of work-related stress leading to illness, which in turn costs the nation £28.3 billion yearly. Therefore, saying that severe stress directly causes substance abuse disorder is a bit iffy by American percentages but the relation between stress and health decline is well-established across the board, from the U.S. to the U.K. and even to Australia.
  • Meditation Is an Excellent Supplement: Meditation instead of medication might be needed in order to help you deal with stress and relapse after recovering from alcoholism or drug addiction through rehab. It can also be used as a preventive measure of sorts so that you won’t end up becoming an addict in the first place through drinking immoderately, anti-anxiety medicine, or recreational usage of various drugs. Learn meditation if you have family history of addiction or live in an environment where you might be pressured to abuse substances.

According to researchers, meditation is one of the most effective stress relievers out there as well as treating substance abuse itself. You need to meditate and focus your mind so that you won’t fall victim to excessive worrying and pressure. What’s more, even without addiction in the equation, stress can be dangerous to your health in and of itself because it increases the amount of the hormone cortisol in your body, which in turn can lead to a number of sicknesses that should decrease your overall life quality. Lanna Rehab should have meditation seminars and therapies available to assist you.

  • The Human Stress Response: Addiction to substances is just one of many ways humans can go about responding to being stressed out. This natural reaction to damaging, dangerous situations occurs whether you’re faced with an actual or perceived danger. Even if it’s something like becoming embarrassed or losing social standing, you can be as stressed out as when you’re faced with a threat to your life. This is why peer pressure is so effective in pushing someone to drink or use drugs for the first time. The stress of losing face or being seen as lame by your peers might stress you out enough to take that hit on the bong or down that shot glass. It can come in many forms and degrees.
  • How Stress Is Defined by Hans Seyle: Many of the common notions of stress were taken from Hans Seyle, an endocrinologist who called stress as a nonspecific response towards demands for change. Many of the texts and studies today still cite Seyle’s understanding and definition of the concept. However, throughout the years, new information about stress has come up that show how insufficient this definition of stress is when it comes to how it affects the mind and body. It’s what many drug rehab centers work with when helping addicts better deal with their stress during and after rehab.
  • According to Seyle, the stress response consists of three stages as defined by his “General Adaptation Syndrome” concept:
    • Alarm: When your mind and body experience stress-filled circumstances, your body mobilizes to deal with the perceived threat with the primal response of flight or fight. You either avoid the stressful situation or you confront it head-on in an aggressive manner in a bid to “survive” or at least “save face” if it’s an embarrassing social situation. This can lead to a bit of an overreaction to stress.
    • Resistance: If the exposure to stress keeps on happening despite the initial flight-or-fight response, then the body continues to resist against it, mobilizing its many different resources to deal with stress like increasing cortisol emissions, finding avenues for escape, or becoming aggressive or even combative given the circumstances in order to avoid things like social humiliation, failure, getting an F on a test, having a merger dead on the water, and so forth.
    • Exhaustion: If the cause or source of the stress isn’t resolved in time, the person experiencing the pressure from the continuing situation will then suffer from burnout. This is particularly common in today’s 24/7 workplace wherein the Internet and smartphones allow offices to contact their employees even after work. If you’re stressed and it’s not resolved after a period of time, your system breaks down and you’ll become vulnerable to different ailments, diseases, and conditions including addiction.
  • Unreliable Self-Reporting and Stress Studies: Much of the reports on stress are subjective or from self-report measures that differ from individual to individual that serve as research volunteers. Self-report measures, like anecdotal evidence, are notoriously unreliable. Nevertheless, it’s all researchers have to work with. According to the American Psychological Association, most Americans report their stress levels increase over time instead of decrease when rating it from a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest. In 2011, the mean stress rating taken from these studies is about a 5.2.
  • How Stress Is Defined in Modern Times: According to Seyle, animals that are exposed to prolonged stress were more vulnerable to disease due to simple exhaustion from dealing with a perceived threat they couldn’t escape or couldn’t fight against. Researchers then followed up the on these discoveries, suggesting that people exposed to prolonged stress can also become weak to developing certain conditions such as depression and other psychological issues or even physical ailments like stomach ulcers. Stress might even aggravate or cause the formation of cancer. This eventually led to the modern-day definition of stress.
  • Aside from overreacting to simple sudden change, stress nowadays is defined as an emotional and physical response between people and their surroundings that are perceived to be threatening or excessively stimulating. Stress happens when someone is unable to adapt himself to a situation in time through practice, habit formation, and desensitization, leading to a feeling of incongruence that exceeds their adaptive capacities and keeps them in a constant state of fear and anxiety. Too much stress response, in turn, can exhaust their physical health, leaving them vulnerable to a host of conditions that include drug addiction.
  • Stress Is Neither a Useful or Objective Term: There’s something nebulous about the concept of stress. This is why it’s not considered a useful, objective term to be used to describe a scientific phenomenon that people can qualify, quantify, and study. It cannot be measured or defined in objective terms even though its effects, conditions, and symptoms are quite apparent. It’s simply not possible to objectively measure stress amounts, especially in light of how the same environment of stress affects individuals differently, like test day in a classroom. What’s more, individuals interpret or view the same situation differently. Stress is a subjective concept.
  • Taking Advantage of the Subjectivity of Stress: Discussions have taken place on whether or not stress is more of a psychological interpretation or reaction to a stressor or negative stimuli. It’s also possible that it’s an external response that can be measured not by the stressor but by the chemical changes in your brain, the arousal of your sympathetic nervous system, and your skin reactions as well as other physical manifestations of anxiety. It can even be both psychological and physiological at the same time. With that said, many of the methods of dealing with stress have something to do with reinterpreting the stressor and changing your point of view.
  • To be more specific, you have cognitive behavioral therapy that tackles both addiction and stress by recognizing stressors that lead you to becoming stressed and abusing substances then reinterpreting them so that you’d stop reacting in a self-destructive way. Ditto when it comes to mindful meditation techniques that allow you to become self-aware of the things that make you troubled, anxious, or itching for a drink or two, thus allowing you to calm down and reach a Zen State where you’re no longer a slave to your passions or compulsions. You can also desensitize yourself to stressors to finally cope with them without using coping mechanisms like drug abuse.
  • A More Positive Lifestyle: One other way to avoid letting stress take control of your life is to practice a healthier and more positive lifestyle. In other words, if you can find ways to reduce stress triggers in your life, then do so. Cut off toxic people that stress you out from your life, especially if they’re merely friends and acquaintances you don’t have to hang out with instead of family members you have no choice to be with for the most part. Reduce your workload, find a career that isn’t so high-pressure, or obtain hobbies that should relax you. This way, you won’t have to turn to drugs in order to cope with excessive stress. This should also treat your cortisol hormone imbalance as well.

In Summary

Stress can cause someone to become an addict. For most laymen, it works like this. You’re stressed out at work, school, or home, so you use drugs to better cope with the stress. However, the more you use a drug, the more it changes your brain and the more you become desensitized with its effects. Therefore, in order to get the same initial calming or euphoric effects of the drug like before, you might try to chase your initial high as before to better cope with stress. Drugs change your brain chemistry as well, which can be helpful for those with anxiety issues and problems dealing with stress.

It just gets worse as the pressure and negative stimuli from your environment increases. You’re encourages to take more of the drug to deal with the increased stress. This escalating usage of drugs in increasing doses eventually leads to addiction. In order treat stress to prevent addiction or relapse, a change in one’s point of view might be called for. Cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, individual therapy, 12-step rehab programs, and mindful meditation techniques might be called for in order to identify stressors and approach them through a new lens or perspective in order to better cope with them. It might involve desensitization or increased exposure to stress until you can get used to it as well.

Lanna Rehab in Thailand Teaches You a Better Way to Deal with Stress


Drug abuse or alcoholism isn’t the answer to stress. There are mental exercises, behavioral changes, counseling, regimented drug use, and other positive coping mechanisms you can develop in order to better deal with stress and pressure. The Lanna Medical Rehab and Wellness Center will serve as your great escape from the stressors and excessive stimuli of work or school life. They even have dual diagnosis services in case you have a preexisting mental condition that might exacerbate or even cause your current addiction predicament.

If you want to know more about Lanna Rehab in Chiang Mai, Thailand, then call their 24/7 hotline right now for booking information, travel packages, and price quotes.

Martin Peters

Martin Peters has a BA (Hons) Dip HE Dip RN CSAT III and is the Group Program Director Lanna Healthcare. He is a Registered Nurse and Certified Substance Abuse Therapist working in the mental health field since 1994; Martin has had a wide range of experience in management and supervisory roles within established healthcare systems, and has provided consultancy services to a number of private and public sector organizations in the UK and Asia in terms of management, policy writing, accreditation and recruitment. Martin’s addictions experience has been in developing inpatient services in Thailand since 2009, both clinical and operational. He has been instrumental in expanding and developing a non 12 step inpatient treatment centre and opening a further inpatient centre with a 12 step approach, implementing KIPU Electronic Records, strengthening hospital partnerships, introducing a Scholarship for students under the Masters in Addiction Studies Program at The ASEAN Institute for Health Development and working with an international accreditation body. Martin has also been a speaker at several international conferences on addiction, including ASEAN conferences and has also guest lectured at Mahidol University (Thailand), University of Sarghoda (Pakistan) Institute of Medical Sciences (Pakistan) and has been a representative on the CARF Standards Advisory Committee for 2016.In 2015. Martin became a Co-Founder of Lanna Healthcare, launching Lanna Rehab in March 2016 and opening Jintra in January 2018. In June of 2018, Martin was involved in the merger of Lanna and DARA, becoming Thailand's biggest private licensed operator. Martin is currently a Joint and Asia Health Co Ltd Owner Operator of Lanna Healthcare Co Ltd, which under its umbrella manages Lanna Rehab in Chiang Mai, Jintra Rehab in Chiang Mai and DARA Rehab in Koh Chang - all Thailand MoPH Licensed Addiction Facilities providing world-class treatment in Thailand.

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