Stress Managment Therapy

Traumatic events can prompt people to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, but high levels of every day stress can also cause people to use drugs and alcohol. If every day stress is particularly high, substance abuse and addiction is often the outcome. Indeed, for those who are trying to cope with traumatic stress symptoms like anxiety and depression, drugs and/or alcohol may be the only thing that helps them to feel a measure of normalcy.

It is important, then, that in the treatment of substance abuse stress management is also addressed. Finding a treatment center that addresses stress is important because without addressing stress as an underlying cause of substance abuse, the chance of relapse after treatment increases.

For long-term recovery from addiction, stress management must be a part of the treatment plan for those who experience high stress levels daily.

The Body’s Response to Stress

Daily life is full of stressors; interpersonal relationships, work and finances are just a few areas of life that can cause stress. Originally stress was a survival mechanism to keep man from being killed or eaten. Medical News Today relates how stress is an evolutionary adaptation to perceived danger. The purpose of stress is to prompt physical and emotional responses that help humans respond to danger by either fighting or fleeing. Typical responses to stress include:

  • Rapid heart rate and breathing
  • Dilated pupils
  • Suppression of the immune and digestive system
  • Hyper-awareness

Once the perceived danger is gone, the body neutralizes its response to the stress by releasing more chemicals.

Today the type of danger a person encounters is not usually a matter of life or death, however, the body’s response to stress remains the same. With the fast pace of modern life, many people now experience stress on a regular, daily basis.

Coping with Stress through Substance Abuse

Since stress causes physical reactions in a person’s body, some may turn to drugs and alcohol to blunt these effects. The chemical compounds in in a number of drugs and alcohol actually interfere with the body’s stress response system. In an effort to alleviate some of the effects of stress, a large number of people use drugs or alcohol, according to the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Besides alcohol, some of the drugs used to offset stress include:

In addition to muting the physical discomfort that stress produces, using these drugs can also provide a feeling of euphoria that makes the causes of stress feel less crushing.

However, since modern life is often full of daily stressors, using drugs or alcohol to neutralize the body’s response to stress often results in substance abuse disorder. In fact, a study by BMC Public Health demonstrates that individuals with higher levels of stress had a higher likelihood of problems with regular drug and alcohol use.

Treatments for Addiction and Stress

Due to the relationship between stress and addiction, substance abuse treatments should include stress management techniques. In fact, in research-based addiction treatment programs, many of the therapies used also help with stress management. Some examples of these therapies include:

  • Exercise: According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, exercise causes the body to produce endorphins. Endorphins are natural painkillers and can improve mood. It also improves the quality of sleep. The effects of endorphins can help to ease stress while also diminishing the body’s need for drugs or alcohol. It can help with withdrawal symptoms and help with a more optimistic outlook. Regular workouts, then, can help to overcome addiction, lower the effects of stress, and prevent relapse.
  • Mindful Meditation: Mindful meditation can lower anxiety, depression, pain and stress according to a research review from the Journal of the American Medical Association. Meditation can also neutralize feelings that can lead to cravings, especially when faced with substance abuse triggers.
  • Behavioral Therapy: Approaches like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) teach a person to recognize patterns in their behavior, especially in regards to their responses to certain situations, with the idea that they can learn to change their behavior when they see the pattern about to repeat. In recognizing situations that would normally trigger substance abuse, they can either avoid the situation all together or try to change their response. Trauma-focused CBT is for those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. It is designed to help them work through trauma issues that cause daily stress and thereby lead to substance abuse.
  • Peer Support: Like 12-Step groups, peer support groups are foundational to addiction treatment because they have been shown to promote accountability, motivation and commitment, helping to avoid relapse. Lower levels of perceived stress have also been found to result from strong peer support. One study from Social Science & Medicine found that people with high stress jobs and low levels of peer support were likely to smoke more cigarettes than people with lower stress and higher levels of support.