The Relationship Between Stress and Substance Abuse

Published On: April 13, 20233.6 min read714 wordsCategories: Substance Abuse

What coping skill do you immediately think of or turn to when you experience stress?

Maybe you have a healthy default of going on a run or to the gym, or simply stepping outside in the fresh air to practice some deep breathing and “grounding.”

Not everyone has developed such a positive repertoire of healthy coping skills, though. So, if you’re in the demographic that is tempted to or already does turn to substances in an attempt to cope with your stress, you wouldn’t be alone.

In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at the relationship between stress and substance abuse, in the dual sense of how it can both lead to and exacerbate a substance use disorder.

Stress effects on mental health

When stress first manifests in your life, you might notice your body goes into a heightened state. You might feel “hot,” sweaty and anxious, and also be on high alert until the issue resolves itself or you get distracted with something else that requires most or all of your attention.

When the immediate stressor passes, many people find that they feel tired or exhausted; this is because in addition to affecting your physical health, stress also affects your mental health.

The effects of stress on mental health commonly lead to:

  • Increased irritability or aggression
  • Feeling out of control or powerless (victim mentality)
  • Insomnia or oversleeping
  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Heightened emotions such as sadness and anger
  • Anxiety, depression and burnout

Stress can cause such intense physical and mental issues to develop that it leads many individuals to believe that drugs or alcohol are their best or only option for coping. 

Stress and addiction

Self-medicating is the practice of using self-prescribed drugs and alcohol as a way of managing uncomfortable emotions, or mental and physical conditions. Self-medicating is especially common among those who deal with frequent or chronic stress in their lives, whether through personal means (like relationships) or professional situations (like work).

While not everyone consciously uses drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, it often develops into a subconscious addiction that spirals out of control before you’ve realized what has  happened. 

While stress can sometimes act as a trigger for the development of an addiction, it can also act as a catalyst for a pre-existing addiction. In other words, stress can and often does effectively exacerbate the symptoms of addiction and significantly increase the risk of overdose.

Common substances abused

The two most common substances abused as a direct result of stress are alcohol and marijuana.

Alcohol is the number one substance abused, generally due to how easily accessible it is. Alcohol is the most widely accepted and indulged substance in the United States, with versions of it being socially integrated into every meal of the day.

This allows for alcohol use to be considered appropriate at many different hours of the day, which can sometimes make it easier to hide a substance use disorder. Coping with stress by drinking in excess is rooted in a lot of entertainment in the States, as well as being so widely practiced that it’s considered normal by many.

Marijuana is the second most commonly abused substance for stress. Though there are benefits to an appropriate and intentional use of marijuana, that’s different from using it to avoid facing problems in your life or to numb yourself from uncomfortable emotions.

If there’s something in your life, maybe a certain relationship or a painful event, that you’ve been trying to avoid through the use of drugs or alcohol, know that you can begin healing today.

Get started today

Freedom Detox specializes in providing inpatient detoxification treatment to adults who are experiencing a substance use disorder in all phases of life.

Your safety, comfort and long-term recovery are our top priorities, which is why we’ve curated a team of compassionate, expert professionals to guide you through every step of your journey. We see that every individual is their own unique person with their own strengths and challenges, and that’s why we create an individually customized medical plan for each client.

To speak with one of our admissions and advisors and discover if our services are the right fit for you, send us a message.

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