We all deal with stress. Some of us might even enjoy the excitement a little stress can add to our lives. But when stress is combined with poor coping skills, it increases the likelihood of addiction by making a person respond to stress more impulsively or by self-medicating.

The Difference Between Good and Bad Stress

The human body is designed to handle stressful situations through the fight-or-flight biological response. Our hearts race, our blood pressure rises and the number of stress hormones, like cortisol, increase in blood levels.

Moderate stressors that are relatively brief are perceived to be pleasant. Some people even seek out these stressful situations for the release of stress hormones, whether it’s a high-adrenaline activity like jumping out of a plane or waiting until the eleventh hour to finish a project at work.

But intense, prolonged and unpredictable stressors, such as interpersonal conflict, the loss of a loved one, a breakup or unemployment can incur depressive symptoms and learned helplessness, a condition in which a person struggles with a sense of powerlessness stemming from trauma or persistent failure to succeed. Chronic stress increases the risk of:

  • Depression
  • A weakened immune system
  • Tension headaches, grinding teeth or a clenched jaw
  • Neck and shoulder pain

Chronic stress is often triggered by trauma in early childhood. In fact, trauma experienced early in life can lead to problems later in life through social epigenetics, or mutations that alter our genes. The result is existing in a constant state of emergency.

Our jobs also routinely expose us to chronic stress. A demanding schedule, a role that requires you to manage people or make tough decisions, and a lack of social support can make people prone to depression and anxiety, as well as stress-related medical conditions like diabetes and ulcers.

Stress Isn’t Harmful–How You Handle It Is

A stressful event or situation is not inherently harmful. What is harmful, however, is how a person interprets the stressor and copes with it. Some people cope with reappraisal, or assessing a situation differently and reinterpreting its meaning by saying something like, “This isn’t a big deal.” Others cope by smoking, overeating or self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.

People who are in unhappy marriages, unsatisfied with their jobs or experience harassment also report higher rates of addiction. Research suggests an undeniable correlation between chronic stress and substance abuse, especially if a person experienced adversity in childhood stemming from:

  • Neglect
  • Physical and sexual abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Family dysfunction

People who deal with chronic stress are more likely to give in to their impulses, such as smoking, binge eating or abusing substances, which can lead to addiction. It’s so important to understand how stress works and learn coping strategies that can help you manage stress is a more healthy way.

At Immersion Recovery Center, residents learn how to identify and handle stress through evidence-based clinical therapy, alternative therapeutic modalities and activities that serve as outlets for stress, like beach trips, nature hikes and exercise. For more information about how our recovery programs can help you or someone address the stress in your life and recover from substance abuse once and for all, contact us at 561.419.3349.