Learn / Stress And Addiction: How Are They Related?
Stress and addiction can feed into and cause each other. “Stress” could be anything that taxes or exceeds your ability to healthily adapt1. For example, stress could prompt you to drink to cope with negative emotions. Similarly, having a heavy drinking habit could cause stress when it affects your life and well-being.
The bi-directional, sometimes cyclical relationship between stress and addiction can seem tricky to separate and treat. But with therapy and the right approach to treatment, you can heal from each and find an improved quality of life.
The relationship between stress and addiction is complex and multifaceted. Numerous studies have investigated their relationship and have provided insights into how stress can increase the risk of addiction.
Crucially, stress can cause someone to take and crave substances2. Chronic stress can further increase the risk of drug use and addiction. Stress can induce changes in neural pathways and cravings, which can contribute to substance-related disorders. The stress response system, including the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, plays a critical role3 in the development and maintenance of addiction.
Stress can also impact your ability to control impulses or other inappropriate behaviors, along with craving instant gratification.
Ultimately, the effects of stress can all lead to substance use. The American Psychological Association (APA) reveals that “stress is one of the most commonly reported precipitants of drug use4” and relapse.
More stress, or chronic stress, is also associated with a higher risk of substance use2 and addiction.
Stress can raise your levels of dopamine5, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for feeling good and reinforcing the activity that feels good. Alcohol and drugs increase your levels of dopamine6, too. Stress-induced alterations in dopamine transmission can increase the risk of addictive behavior.
Because it releases dopamine, you can even become addicted to stress7. And with stress and substance use affecting the system, it can be more difficult to disconnect one from the other and cope without the dopamine they produce.
The dopamine-intertwined relationship between stress and addiction can have negative but treatable effects on mental health and overall wellness.
The relationship between stress and addiction is also influenced by individual factors, such as coping strategies and resilience. Effective coping strategies8 can protect individuals from the maladaptive effects of stress that can contribute to addiction.
On the other hand, maladaptive coping strategies, such as procrastination9, can increase the risk of addiction. Using substances as a maladaptive coping skill certainly increases the risk, too.
Additionally, those with lower levels of psychological resilience may be more susceptible to the effects of stress10 and more prone to developing addiction.
Stress makes addiction and mental health conditions more likely to develop2. The untreated effects of stress increase your risk of anxiety, depression, and other mood-related disorders. In some cases, stress can cause trauma11 and conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Multiple stressors or chronic stress can also be the catalyst2 between using a substance and becoming addicted to one. The more stressors you have in your life, the more likely you are to develop an addiction.
Treatment that addresses your stress and addiction simultaneously can help you heal from both conditions. Therapy, wellness activities, and at-home coping strategies can help you manage stress and recover from addiction.
Treatment can effectively stop the cycle of stress and addiction, help you avoid relapse, and feel better as a whole. You can find rehabs treating stress by browsing our list of rehabs for stress with photos, reviews, and insurance information to help you make an informed decision.
Habibi, Zahra, et al. “Effectiveness of Stress Management Skill Training on the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Levels in Drug Addicts after Drug Withdrawal.” International Journal of High Risk Behaviors & Addiction, vol. 2, no. 2, Sept. 2013, pp. 82–86. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.5812/ijhrba.10695.
Sinha, Rajita. “Chronic Stress, Drug Use, and Vulnerability to Addiction.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 1141, Oct. 2008, pp. 105–30. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1196/annals.1441.030.
Koob, George, and Mary Jeanne Kreek. “Stress, Dysregulation of Drug Reward Pathways, and the Transition to Drug Dependence.” American Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 164, no. 8, Aug. 2007, pp. 1149–59. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2007.05030503.
Stress and Addiction: Biological and Psychological Mechanisms. Elsevier Academic Press, 2007.
Bloomfield, Michael AP, et al. “The Effects of Psychosocial Stress on Dopaminergic Function and the Acute Stress Response.” eLife, vol. 8, p. e46797. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.46797. Accessed 24 Oct. 2023.
Volkow, Nora D., et al. “Dopamine in Drug Abuse and Addiction: Results of Imaging Studies and Treatment Implications.” Archives of Neurology, vol. 64, no. 11, Nov. 2007, pp. 1575–79. Silverchair, https://doi.org/10.1001/archneur.64.11.1575.
Smith, Morgan. “Harvard-Trained Psychologist Shares 3 Signs You’re Addicted to Stress: ‘It’s a Lot More Common than You Think.’” CNBC, 7 May 2023, https://www.cnbc.com/2023/05/07/harvard-trained-psychologist-reveals-3-signs-youre-addicted-to-stress.html.
Tips for Coping with Stress|Publications|Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC. 18 July 2022, https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/about/copingwith-stresstips.html.
Capella, Maria del Mar, and Ana Adan. “The Age of Onset of Substance Use Is Related to the Coping Strategies to Deal with Treatment in Men with Substance Use Disorder.” PeerJ, vol. 5, Aug. 2017, p. e3660. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.3660.
Klainin-Yobas, Piyanee, et al. “Evaluating the Relationships among Stress, Resilience and Psychological Well-Being among Young Adults: A Structural Equation Modelling Approach.” BMC Nursing, vol. 20, no. 1, July 2021, p. 119. BioMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1186/s12912-021-00645-9.
Resilient Wisconsin: Trauma and Toxic Stress | Wisconsin Department of Health Services. 29 Mar. 2020, https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/resilient/trauma-toxic-stress.htm.
“Mindfulness Meditation: A Research-Proven Way to Reduce Stress.” Https://Www.Apa.Org, https://www.apa.org/topics/mindfulness/meditation. Accessed 3 Nov. 2023.
Nourisaeed, Azam, et al. “Comparison of the Effect of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy on Perceived Stress and Coping Skills in Patients after Myocardial Infarction.” ARYA Atherosclerosis, vol. 17, no. 2, Mar. 2021, pp. 1–9. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.22122/arya.v17i0.2188.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Centre for Clinical Interventions, https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/-/media/CCI/Mental-Health-Professionals/Panic/Panic---Information-Sheets/Panic-Information-Sheet---05---Progressive-Muscle-Relaxation.pdf.
“What Is Self-Compassion?” Self-Compassion, 22 Mar. 2011, https://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/.
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