There is a clear link between stress and substance abuse, with each possessing the ability to cause the other to occur: 1) Stress not only increases the likelihood of initiating alcohol and other drug use, but it can also trigger relapses following detox and rehab treatment and perpetuate the compulsion to use – jeopardizing recovery; 2) Abuse of drugs that activate brain reward pathways also activate brain stress pathways. The direct effects of drug abuse on major components of the physiological stress response make drugs “pharmacological stressors.”
With both stress and addictive drugs playing off each other in downward spiraling ways, professional guidance and support is essential for psychological therapy, management meds and personal oversight of each individual’s withdrawal, rehabilitation and follow-up recovery.
Looking specifically at stress, management of stress factors are an essential component of any prevention or treatment program. Fortunately, there are many measures and methods for coping with stress in a healthy, productive manner so that stress management and restraint in drug use can go hand-in-hand.1
Meditation Can Be a Mental “Windshield Wiper”
Meditation is a calming practice that can reduce stress without the need for any alcohol or other drugs. Meditation encourages awareness and acceptance of thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations as they arise, as well as recognition of their impermanence. This practice helps individuals to view experiences from a more objective, reflective perspective, rather than try to change the unchangeable or bury emotions or memories.2
Exercise Is a Great Way to Relieve Stress
Physical activity provides a healthy outlet for stress and other negative emotions. It is vital for maintaining mental fitness, as it helps to reduce stress.
Studies show that exercise is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. Possessing immediate stress-reducing capabilities, exercise has long-term benefits for recovery as well. This includes the increased cognitive awareness of danger signals, such as drug use triggers, the potential for relapse and possible means of positive coping to stressors – as opposed to immediately and impulsively reacting or becoming more stressed.3
Take a Break from Life Once in Awhile
Stress often comes from feeling like there is too much to do, too many expectations or too little time. Effective methods of stress relief include taking deep breaths or counting to ten before moving forward. These small actions may be enough to slow down stressful thought patterns and to provide a moment to reflect on whether worries are truly as troublesome as they may initially seem.4
Don’t Take Things so Seriously All the Time
Good humor goes a long way. Laughing at yourself, with others or at funny television shows or movies can provide welcome relief from stress. Even smiling has stress-relieving benefits; it has been shown to not only reduce stress, but increase a sense of well-being as it lowers heart rate and stress hormone levels – yes, even if the smiles are “faked.” Putting a smile on your face and finding small things to laugh about are drug-free ways to reduce stress and find greater joy in your life and circumstances.5
Volunteering Raises Positive Emotions and Lowers Stress
Helping others can be a great way of helping yourself, as scientific studies verify. Volunteering and other ways of giving promote greater self-esteem and a sense of purpose. Producing “feel-good” hormones – like serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins and dopamine – unselfish giving, being of service to others and exchanging positive energy with another human is a psychological and emotional win-win. With this added sense of reward, there shouldn’t be nearly the draw to alcohol or other drugs in order to feel good about yourself and your situation. So try volunteering in order to feel more socially connected, avert loneliness and depression, and avoid the temptation to use chemicals to lift you up.6
Professional Guidance May Be Needed to Help Handle Stress
If you or a loved one struggles with finding healthy ways to cope with stress, don’t turn to alcohol or other addictive drugs for answers. Call us anytime 24/7 on our toll-free line for positive options and long-term solutions. Our caring coordinators are equipped to confidentially address your questions and encourage you to take advantage of opportunities that can help you return to your authentic self.
1 “Chronic Stress, Drug Use, and Vulnerability to Addiction”, National Center for Biotechnology Information, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2732004/ , (August 26, 2009).
2 Marcus, Marianne T., Ed.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., et.al., “Mindfulness-Based Therapies for Substance Use Disorders”, National Center for Biotechnology Information, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2818765/ , (February 9, 2010).
3 “Physical Activity Reduces Stress”, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st , (2016).
4 “A Counsellor’s Guide to Working with Alcohol and Drug Users (2nd Edition)”, Drug and Alcohol Office, Western Australia, http://aodknowledgecentre.net.au/aodkc/key-resources/health-practice-resources/?lid=20541 , (September 2007).
5 “Simply Smiling Can Actually Reduce Stress”, Association for Psychological Science, http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/simply-smiling-can-actually-reduce-stress.html , (August 6, 2012).
6 Cole, Terri, Licensed Psychotherapist, “So What’s So Good About Giving?”, Huffpost Healthy Living, The Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/terri-cole/volunteering-health_b_2189477.html , (February 2, 2013).