The Important Role Stress Plays in Addiction and Recovery


Stress is natural, and in many ways it can be good. When you’re feeling unmotivated, the stress of a deadline can help you get things done. When you’re in a dangerous situation, stress helps to get you ready to run or fight back with the “fight or flight” response.

On the other hand, stress can be destructive when it’s not helping us in these important ways. Stress is particularly bad for us when it’s related to addiction and substance abuse. Anyone struggling with addiction, or even firmly in recovery, needs to understand what stress does and how to control it.

A Normal Stress Response

Our bodies respond to stress in a couple of ways. We have glands that release hormones in response to stressful situations. Our brains also release chemicals called neurotransmitters when we’re stressed.

When these chemicals are released, a complicated cycle begins, but basically it gives us the energy and the emotional motivation to react to the stress in a useful way. If we receive a normal amount of stress on any given day, this cycle works to our benefit. When we’re chronically stressed or our brain chemistry has been altered by substance abuse, it may not be so useful.

Addiction, Recovery and Stress

Drugs and alcohol can actually inhibit or weaken the natural stress response. This is why many people start abusing substances in the first place. It makes you feel relaxed. When in withdrawal from drugs, the opposite happens and you feel really stressed. Naturally, you reach for drugs again to feel better.

Substance abuse skews the natural way in which the body and mind deal with stress and makes you more sensitive to stress. In recovery, stress has been shown to be a major factor in relapse. Often, it’s a very mild stressor because as an addict in recovery, you’re more sensitive to stress.

Celebrate Stress Awareness Month by Finding Relaxation

For an addict in recovery, stress can be seriously detrimental. Even the smallest stressor can send your mind reeling and craving drugs or alcohol. April is National Stress Awareness Month. It’s important for everyone who wants to be healthy to learn how to relax and mitigate stress, but for addicts in recovery, it’s essential. Here are some important ways you can celebrate this month and learn to relax:

  • Let go of control. There are some things you just can’t change. People who recognize this are able to relax more than those who can’t accept it. When a situation stresses you out, stop to think about whether or not you can change it. If you can change the situation, take steps to do so. If not, walk away and let go.
  • Control your reactions. Whether or not you can control an external situation, you always have control over your reactions. Learn to reign in anger and anxiety and respond to stressful situations with calm and control.
  • Develop a healthy lifestyle. You’ll be much more able to control your stress response when you sleep well, eat well and exercise regularly.
  • Spend time with friends. Humans are social animals, so spend time with friends and family. Laugh, talk and decompress to reduce stress.
  • Find your own ways to relax. We’re all unique, and different activities will help each of us relax. Find what makes you feel calm and engage in it regularly. Try going for a walk, reading a good book, having a hot cup of tea, jogging, mediating or practicing yoga.

When you recognize the role stress plays in your life and how it commands your body to abuse substances, you can learn to take control over it. Focus on relaxing and avoiding stressors, and you’ll have a more successful and satisfying recovery.

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