Making the Connection: Chronic Stress and Addiction
November 12, 2019 , Agape Treatment Center
Stress is a normal part of everyday life. Some individuals are able to manage stress with practical, easy-to-implement coping skills such as exercise, breathing exercises, and meditation. However, stress affects people differently, and some individuals may find it difficult to mitigate stress without turning to unhealthy means such as self-medication. Individuals who turn to substances such as drugs and alcohol – to escape stress – may find themselves caught up in the cycle of addiction.
Chronic stress differs from the general conception of stress. Chronic stress can be overwhelming, part of a person’s general state of being, and is linked to a higher likelihood of addiction. Professionals in Fort Lauderdale drug rehab facilities understand the relationship between chronic stress and addiction and can help you find treatment to overcome a healthier balance while living a happier life.
What is Chronic Stress?
According to NCBI, stress is “processes involving perception, appraisal, and response to harmful, threatening, or challenging events or stimuli.” Stressful experiences can either be physiologically or emotionally challenging, but they both trigger adaptive responses to help the body return to a state of normality.
Anything that causes stress is referred to as a stressor. Physiological stressors may include hunger, food deprivation, drug withdrawal, insomnia, and extreme dehydration. Emotional stressors may include the death of a family member or friend, divorce/break up, and interpersonal conflict. No matter the specific type, stress is a common factor known to predispose an individual to addiction.
Chronic stress is repeated or prolonged over an extended period of time. It is often associated with consistent distress or increasing in intensity as it becomes more unpredictable over time. Generally, the individual is unable to adapt to the stress as it destabilizes the body and continuously disrupts homeostasis.
Due to the greater magnitude of the stress and the prolonged negative impact on the individuals affected, chronic stress often leads to a higher risk of maladaptive practices. Excessive and intense stress often leads to severe emotional consequences as well. Many individuals may cause harm to their own bodies’ natural defenses to combat stress by self-medicating in an effort to relieve chronic stress.
How Stress Affects the Body
Stress – although considered a negative thing – is actually vital to existence. In fact, stress is a necessary survival skill. It can be the driving force to keep an individual safe from danger. When an individual is under stress, his/her body automatically triggers the “fight-or-flight” response. Once the individual is out of the stressful situation, the body will trigger the “rest and digest” response, so the body can recover and heal.
If an individual experiences stress repeatedly, the flight-or-flight response is continuously triggered, and eventually affects the prefrontal lobe. This part of the brain is responsible for an individual’s higher-level thinking and impulse control. Specific chemicals associated with this response are only supposed to be in the system for a short period of time. However, over time these chemicals may be continuously released and begin to have other ramifications as well.
According to the American Psychological Association, some of the physical symptoms of stress may include the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Insomnia/Excessive sleeping
- Chest pain
- Lower back pain
- Nausea, diarrhea, constipation
- Heart palpitations
- Disinterest in sex/pleasure
- Frequent colds
Emotional and cognitive symptoms of stress may include:
- Memory problems
- Lack of focus
- Difficulty concentrating
- Negative thinking
- Panic attacks
- Racing thoughts
Chronic stress can cause harm to the immune system – leading to frequent colds and other illnesses. Stress-related chemicals can provoke the immune system to be overused. Fatigue and depression are also common in individuals dealing with chronic stress.
Chronic Stress and Addiction
When chronic stress is left untreated, it can lead to many other conditions that individuals attempt to self-medicate on their own. Inadvertently, individuals may turn to drugs and alcohol which ultimately leads these individuals to develop an addiction. It is important to remember, that addiction can happen if an individual attempts to self-medicate at home or if they receive a prescription from a medical professional.
Individuals experiencing stress may pick up nervous habits such as nail-biting, smoking, pacing, hair pulling, and even drugs and alcohol to ease the symptoms of stress. The substance may provide temporary relief, however, the stress eventually returns and this process becomes destructive. A study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences by Rajita Sinha states that chronic stress is a well-known risk factor for addiction and relapse vulnerability.
Many movies show an individual coming home from a stressful day at work and going straight to the fridge to crack open an ice-cold beer. Certain drugs and alcohol can provide a temporary calming effect – leading the individual to feel as though their problems are gone. This may provoke the individual to consistently return to self-medication to mitigate the symptoms of stress. Over time, the individual will develop a tolerance and return to consume the substance at higher quantities and more frequently.
Eventually, drug abuse may become a coping strategy for the individual to deal with stress or to reduce tension. Ultimately, chronic stress can cause changes in the brain that lead individuals to be more sensitive to – and have a decrease in their ability to handle stress. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that when an individual is experiencing stress, their body releases a hormone called corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) – a hormone that can also be stimulated by drug use.
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Drinking alcohol to relieve stress is a common practice today. However, the physical side effects of alcohol abuse and symptoms of stress can wreak havoc on the body. Alcohol abuse can prevent the development of natural coping skills.
Stress and Marijuana
Individuals may turn to marijuana to experience the calming effect while decreasing feelings of stress and anxiety. However, once the effects of marijuana wear off, a rebound effect of increased anxiety is common. Therefore, many long-term marijuana users find it difficult to handle routine stressors.
Stress and Opiates
Many people may use opiates to deal with stress and eventually find themselves caught in the web of addiction. Opiates bind to receptors in the brain and produce a sense of unparalleled euphoria for the user. The pleasure temporarily relieves the individual of the symptoms of pain but eventually leads them into a much more complex cycle of addiction.
Agape Treatment Center in Fort Lauderdale
Our lives are accelerating at a rapid pace today. We tend to work longer hours, manage multiple jobs, rack up student loans and other debts, pay higher bills, take care of our families, and struggle to keep up with the consumer-driven market surrounding us. You may find yourself struggling to make it through one day without feeling incredible amounts of stress. The more complex our schedules, the more likely we are to face stressors that affect our minds and bodies.
Chronic stress is persistent, intense, and continues over an extended period of time. Chronic stress must be treated before it leads to maladaptive coping mechanisms such as substance abuse. Addiction is never the answer when dealing with stress.
Our compassionate medical staff at Agape Treatment Center understands the role that chronic stress plays in addiction and recovery. This is why our dual diagnosis treatment center in Fort Lauderdale embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends, that serves regardless of circumstances. We provide individuals all over the country with the opportunity to achieve the gift of lasting sobriety. Our evidence-driven therapy and counseling methods are based on a belief that each and every individual is worth living a joyous and rewarding life free from the bondage of addiction.
Agape Treatment Center for substance abuse embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends, that serves regardless of circumstances. We provide individuals all over the country with the opportunity to achieve the gift of lasting sobriety.