Go to page content

The Connection Between Stress and Substance Abuse 

Published | 5 min read

Stuck in a cycle of stress and substance abuse? Learn how these two conditions feed off each other - and how to put an end to both here.

Stress and substance abuse min scaled

Stress is a normal human emotion and the bane of human existence. When our stressors start throwing punches consistently and relentlessly, and things become too much to handle, it could cause a person to seek solace in nicotine, alcohol, or drugs as means of coping.

Today, we explore the complex connection between stress and substance abuse. 

What Is The Connection Between Stress And Substance Abuse?

As humans, our bodies can recognize whenever we experience something stressful – be it a significant life change, a catastrophic event, or some form of abuse (it can even be perceived as stress).

At that point, the body commences a complex process, mobilizing various behavioral and physiological changes to deal with the stress it experiences.

However, our bodies cannot do this on their own. They need our brains to tell them. 

The self-medication theory 

An image of addictive substances
Many people turn to addictive substances to cope with stress, which can lead to substance abuse.

One explanation for the solid linkage between stress and substance abuse is the self-medication theory.

It suggests this person may look for alternative ways to cope with tension associated with life stressors or relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety caused by a traumatic event.

Some roll a joint or light up a cigarette; some unwind with a nice glass of stiff drink; and some look for it in substances that cause addiction more quickly than others, such as opioid painkillers.

Can stress lead to addiction? 

It’s essential to mention that there’s no single cause of addiction. A substance use disorder (SUD) is the effect of several risk factors and their complex interplay.

These factors include an individual’s genetics, their surrounding environment, and their life experiences. If one’s dealing with chronic stress, this may also be another risk factor contributing to the initiation.

Prolonged stress can take a heavy toll on our mental and physical well-being. By affecting nearly every system in our body, chronic stress enhances the risk of developing a mental health disorder and may result in various physical health problems.

A person dealing with chronic, long-lasting stress – and lacking healthy coping mechanisms – is more prone to give in to drugs or alcohol abuse as a method of regulating emotions and soothing psychological distress.

How Does SUD Affect Stress?

For someone who’s dealing with high levels of stress daily, addictive substances can stimulate feelings of pleasure and composure temporarily. That’s when the problem when the drug wears off.

  • After the “high” comes extremely low moods, thus worsening stress-related symptoms and making this person seek another fix.
  • It dysregulates the brain’s reward system, and we become more impulsive and automatic and less motivated to seek healthy coping methods. And so, the connection between stress and addiction begins. 
  • Over time, all of these changes make it extremely hard for the person to stop using – even if and when they want to stop – despite the consequences.

The consequences of substance use are various – from poor performance at work, job loss, economic instability, and relationship strain to medical or psychological health problems. All of these things can further increase one’s overall stress levels. 

How To Manage Stress The Healthy Way

Learning to manage stress in healthy ways is essential – and that starts with recognizing it in your life. For one thing, everyone feels stress differently.

One person may get irritable, another may suffer from insomnia, and another may have headaches or an upset stomach. So, what are some signs of stress in your life?  

Secondly, learn to recognize the primary causes of stress and from where it’s coming. Your stressors may be anything from school, work, and money to family, relationships, and health problems.

Only once you know what signals to look for and where can you start to manage it adequately. 

Try TCM for stress and substance abuse

A woman walking in nature and collecting flowers
Spending time in nature is a great way to cope with stress naturally.

Smoking, drinking alcohol, overeating, using drugs, etc. All these things might make a person feel good again for a moment. However, these are all cases of unhealthy behavior that only leads to more stress.

It’s a never-ending cycle and a perfect example of how stress and SUD are connected. So, do your best to avoid them. Look for healthy stress busters instead!  

For instance, try practicing healthy habits like getting enough sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, and exercising. Spending time in nature is an excellent way to boost your mood and reduce stress, and practicing meditation or mindfulness is equally beneficial.

Try new ways to relax, like creating and caring for a mini garden in your backyard, or try new healing methods or natural remedies. For instance, there’s been a lot of talk about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and how incorporating it into your daily life can bring many benefits. TCM includes multi-faceted and time-tested practices where practitioners use herbs or acupuncture to maintain a balance between a healthy body, mind, and spirit. 

The main point? The options are endless.

Healthy daily habits and behavior are essential for recovering addicts and preventing relapse. Staying consistent is a vital form of aftercare in addiction recovery. And know that you’re not alone – your loved ones and experts can provide continued support whenever needed. 

Seek Help For Stress And Substance Abuse

Stress. Everyone experiences it from time to time. Hardly anyone’s life is a complete cakewalk. But although a normal human emotion, stress can sometimes become overwhelming and last for a long time.

At that moment, it stops being an occasional occurrence and starts becoming a problem. That’s where the connection between stress and substance abuse begins. It’s a cycle that’s easy to enter and not very easy to get out of. That’s why seeking help and learning healthy coping mechanisms are so crucial. 

Sponsored article by GetHealthyLife.com.

Share this article on

Was This Article Useful to You?

Want more healthy tips?

Get All Things Health in your mailbox today!

Subscribe to our newsletter

Related Articles

Back of head pain min scaled
Mental Health
April 8, 2022 | 5 min read

How To Get Rid Of Headache In Back Of Head

Headache in back of head can be prevented using TCM remedies, such as acupressure and eating a healthy diet. Learn more about how to reduce head pain here.

Read More
Alcohol abuse min scaled
Mental Health
August 11, 2022 | 7 min read

How To Help Someone Through Alcohol Abuse

Recovering from alcohol abuse takes a lot of time, patience, and helpful resources. This guide provides professional advice to help you deal with symptoms naturally so you can focus on getting better.

Read More
Burnout symptoms min scaled
Mental Health
December 19, 2022 | 7 min read

5 Burnout Symptoms You Should Never Ignore

Burnout symptoms are easy to ignore if you are constantly on the go. Learn how to identify and correct them before they turn into a more serious health complication.

Read More
Brain fog min scaled
Mental Health
May 17, 2022 | 11 min read

Bash Brain Fog And Improve Memory With These Easy Tips

If you sometimes struggle with finding the right words to say or suddenly becoming unable to think, you could be suffering from brain fog. Here's how to get rid of it.

Read More

The contents of the All Things Health website are for informational and educational purposes only.
Our website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.