stress addiction
19th April 2017

Can stress trigger addiction?

Stress has become a common feature of modern life – those failing to cope with prolonged stress may find themselves turning to addiction. However, it often does not receive public recognition as a serious problem which is something Stress Awareness Month has been setup to deal with head on.

People struggling with a demanding work life or subject to other emotional or social pressures may find themselves suffering from stress. Big life changes, either happy or sad, can also lead to feeling out of control. Stress may be related to work (either unemployment or high workload), family (divorce or being a carer), housing or personal issues such as illness or bereavement. Coupled with the increased demands of modern day life, it can all have a devastating effect on how you respond to problems.

While it is normal to feel some pressure from time to time, those who are constantly stressed may develop lower adaptability and therefore remain in a state of high alert – it is their body’s natural response to threatening, harmful or challenging situations, the ‘fight or flight’ response.  Acute or chronic stress adversely affects how people feel emotionally, mentally and physically. Typically, they may feel overwhelmed, be constantly worrying and have physical symptoms such as headaches or sleep problems.  Tackling stress means leaning how to cope – using calming techniques, managing your time or sharing your problems with family or friends.

However, sometimes the stressful feelings can be so overwhelming that a person may find it attractive to block out difficult issues. The temporary relief which alcohol and other drugs may bring doesn’t last and can trigger an individual’s addiction.  Various studies have now shown the strong neurobiological link between stress and alcohol or drug addiction – this is thought to be because the same pathways in the brain deal with prolonged stress and with impulse control. In fact stress has been identified not only as a substance abuse risk factor but also as a factor in addiction relapse.

The impact of stress, and ultimately, of addiction is often keenly felt by the sufferer’s relatives and friends. Family members will naturally try to help those struggling to cope with stress. However when stress turns to addiction loved ones can feel a sense of helplessness and anguish about what to do. Stress and addiction can have a damaging effect on their relationships. This is especially so if the addict alters their behaviour to hide or sustain their addiction.

Support and understanding are vital of course. Many relatives will also want to identify how they can help practically. Often those closest to the sufferer are best placed to encourage them to seek assistance, whether it’s self-help or reaching out for professional help.

It is important that those suffering stress find ways of dealing with the pressures on them to maintain a healthy life. It’s not always possible to change the source of the stress – you may need to accept that and concentrate on coping and changing the way you react.

If things do get out of hand, it’s also important to know that whatever the cause, addiction is a treatable condition. Broadway Lodge can help to equip people with the tools they need to gain a sense of control and to sustain a healthy, long-term recovery.