Stress and substance addiction are closely related. Stress can contribute to the development of addiction and is a significant relapse risk. Learning to manage stress in a healthy way is an important recovery goal.
The American Institute of Stress notes that stress is a subjective concept that is difficult to precisely define. It was originally defined as the response of the body to any demand for change. Over time, it became synonymous with strain or tension or with demands that overwhelm personal resources. The Institute notes, however, that there are elements of stress that can be helpful. To a point, increased stress results in increased productivity, but there is a level at which the trend reverses. The tipping point differs for each individual, however, so paying attention to early warning symptoms of stress overload is vital. If you are struggling with an amphetamine addiction, learn how stress management can help you succeed in rehab.
How Stress Contributes to Addiction
Stress and substance abuse interact in multiple ways. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism explains the way in which stress can contribute to an increased risk of alcohol relapse. They note that alcohol can cause dysfunction in stress responses. Both chronic abuse and acute withdrawal are associated with increased activity in the brain’s stress systems. This involves higher levels of stress hormones in specific areas of the brain.
Chronic alcohol use can also change the brain’s reward pathway. This altered pathway can increase alcohol craving when people are exposed to alcohol-related stimuli, and also when they are under stress. In other words, people suffering from addiction may have both an overactive stress response and a tendency for stress to increase substance use cravings.
Stress may increase the addiction and relapse risk directly or indirectly, through its effect on other variables. A 2008 article in the journal Pain reports on a study indicating that stress can affect pain tolerance. Substance abuse sometimes begins as an attempt to address pain.
A publication by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) entitled Managing Chronic Pain in Adults with or in Recovery from Substance Use Disorders notes that chronic pain and addiction frequently co-occur.
Higher levels of stress also correspond to an increase in negative emotional states. A 2010 article in the journal Personality and Individual Differences examined stress in adolescents. A strong association was found between stress and negative emotions such as depression and anxiety.
Dealing with stress can take many forms, including the following:
- Addressing conflicts – Some degree of stress is inevitable, but recurring conflicts that cause higher than normal stress levels can often be addressed and resolved. Relationship issues, especially within the family, are common contributors to increased levels of stress. Family or couple’s therapy can be very beneficial.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – CBT involves becoming aware of the beliefs and thoughts than underlie emotions. Stress can sometimes arise from or be intensified by unhelpful or untrue beliefs, such as “Things never work out for me” or “No one likes me.” CBT involves examining beliefs for their truth and counteracting or discarding those that are harmful. Viewing a situation from a different and more positive angle is sometimes known as reframing.
- Breathing exercises – Focusing on breathing when the stress level begins to rise can turn down the body’s stress response. When under stress, the body tends to take quick and shallow breaths. Taking deeper and slower breaths can communicate to the body that there is no danger. It can lower heart rate and blood pressure. Breathing exercises can vary. One common technique is to breathe in slowly, hold the breath for a defined period of time, then slowly exhale.
- Muscle relaxation – Muscles tense when stress levels rise. A helpful relaxation technique can be to focus on one muscle at a time, tense it, and then let it fully relax. Receiving a massage is another way to address muscle tension.
- Music – Listening to any enjoyable music can be pleasurable, but there are certain musical styles that have been shown to lower the stress response. Classical music can be very calming. There are also music-based audio programs using music based on binaural beats, which can slow brain waves.
- Mindfulness – Mindfulness is the practice of focusing fully on the present moment, becoming aware of physical and emotional states without judging them. Stress can often be heightened by a focus on the future or the past, and focusing on the present can release unnecessary tension.
- Gratitude – Becoming consciously aware of and thankful for circumstances, relationships, belongings and other positive aspects of life can be very powerful. Gratitude has been shown to lower stress and improve sleep.
- Exercise – Physical exercise can boost endorphins, the body’s feel-good chemicals, and help counteract stress. Even moderate or low-level exercise can be beneficial.
- Meditation – Meditation can take various forms. A common technique is to choose a positive affirmation, such as “I am at peace” and to slowly repeat it to yourself, either out loud or silently. This is often timed to coincide with taking slow, deep breaths.
- Laughter – Laughter can lower stress hormones and increase endorphins. Taking time to watch a humorous movie or television show or deciding to read a funny book or webpage can enhance wellbeing.
By incorporating a few of these techniques into your daily routine you can learn to cope with stress in healthy ways.
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If you are struggling with amphetamine addiction and are ready to start an addiction recovery journey, give us a call. Our helpline is toll-free and available 24 hours a day. We can help you understand your treatment options and find the one that is best for you. We can also check your insurance coverage for you if you wish, at no cost or obligation. Addiction is a treatable disease and we can help you find your road to recovery. Why not call now?