Levels of Stress, Research, Stress and Addiction Treatment

If you or someone you love is struggling with a primary mental health disorder like severe stress we can help. Where your primary mental health stress disorder is leading to and triggering secondary substance abuse problems a co-occurring treatment plan will be essential for long-term recovery.

Link Between Stress and Addiction

Stress and addiction usually go hand in hand. More and more, we are witnessing scientific research that shows stress can alter the brain, making it vulnerable to addiction. Yet, we live in a society with ever-increasing stressors—like family, work, and money. Possibly this is why most substance abuse experts recommend dealing with the root of those stressors as an approach to deal with the ever-increasing numbers of people suffering from stress and addiction.

There Are Different Levels Of Stress:

  • Short-term stress can produce uncomfortable physical reactions but can also help you to focus.
  • Long-term stress, such as stress-induced sickness, divorce, or the death of a loved one, may lead to severe health problems.
  • Traumatic events, such as natural violence, disasters, and terrorism, may cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a serious illness.

The body’s central nervous, immune, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems are connected in responding to stress. The physical responses can vary: Short-term responses can cause sweaty palms, a racing heart, and a pounding head. Long-term responses can cause high blood pressure, back pain, sleeplessness, and an inability to make decisions. Constant stress overwhelms the body with stress hormones, which can increase the risk of serious health problems.

Addiction usually seems to be an attempt to deal with stress in a way that doesn’t quite work out for the person. While individuals may get some temporary relief from stress through drugs or alcohol, that relief is short-lived, so you need more to continue coping with stress. And because many addictions bring with them further stress, such as the withdrawal symptoms experienced when a drug fades, yet more of the addictive substance is needed to cope with the additional stress involved. It’s important to know if there are other disorders to be treated as Bipolar disorder that could complicate the stress in a person.

Stress and addiction double or raise the suffering of any individual encountering them at the same time.
All the suffering, stress, and addiction come from not realizing you already are what you are looking for.

From this viewpoint, it is obvious that some people are more exposed to addictions than others, simply by the amount of stress in their lives. For instance, there is now a well-established link between childhood abuse, whether emotional, physical, or sexual abuse and later development of addictions to drugs and behaviors. Childhood abuse is very stressful for the child but creates problems as that child grows into an adult, with consequential problems with self-esteem and relationships. However, not everyone who was abused as a child develops an addiction, and not everyone with addiction was abused in childhood.

Research Findings On Stress And Addiction

Most addiction treatment specialists suggest that stress is the number one cause of relapse to substance abuse and chemical dependence. In both animals and people, stress increases the brain levels of a peptide known as corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF). The increase in CRF levels, in turn, triggers a cascade of biological responses. Human and animal research has implicated this cascade in the pathophysiology of both substance use disorders and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is also shown in research that administering CRF or a chemical that mimics the action of CRF in animals produces an increase in stress-related behaviors.

People exposed to chronic stress or those who show symptoms of PTSD often have hormonal responses that are not adequately regulated and do not return to normal when the stress is over. This may make these individuals more predisposed to stress-related illnesses and may prompt individuals to relapse to drug use.

  • Studies have shown that individuals subjected to stress are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol or undergo relapse.
  • In a study regarding factors that can lead to continued drug use among opiate users, high stress was determined to predict continued drug use.
  • Research has shown that in animals not previously exposed to illicit drugs, stressors increase vulnerability for drug self-administration.
  • Acute stress can enhance memory, whereas chronic stress can damage memory and may impair cognitive function.
  • Research has shown that there is an overlap between neurocircuits that respond to substances and those that respond to stress.
Recovery from stress and addiction is something you can allow yourself. We believe you can get better and you're more than this.
Recovery from stress and addiction is something you can allow yourself. We believe you can get better and you’re more than this.
  • Among drug-free cocaine abusers in treatment, exposure to personal stress led to consistent and significant increases in cocaine craving and activation of physiological stress and emotional stress response.
  • In another study of cocaine abusers in treatment, significant increases in alcohol and cocaine craving were seen with stress and drug cues imagery but not with neutral-relaxing imagery.
  • There is a strong connection between stress coping resources and the ability to sustain abstinence.

The above-mentioned research is based on the report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse NIDA [1].

Stress And Addiction During The COVID-19 Pandemic

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) [2], as of June 2020, 13.3% of Americans reported starting or increasing substance use as a way of coping with stress or emotions related to COVID-19. Also in a different study from Psychiatry Research [3], COVID-19 psychological factors may be risk factors for substance use initiation. Stress and worry related to COVID-19 are linked with substance use coping mechanisms. The same research shows that 6.9% of participants began smoking cigarettes during the pandemic while 8.8% started drinking alcohol, 4.4% started using e-cigarettes, 5.0% started using cannabis, 5.6% started using stimulants, and 5.6% started using opioids. This suggests worry and fear might be risk factors for starting using substances.

While a lot of people in the United States remain stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are turning to alcohol as a way of coping with everything from stress and loneliness to frustration and grief. Also, it is a way to get through the tough times and difficult emotions associated with the pandemic.

stress and addiction
Stress and addiction during the pandemic increase substance use as a way of coping.

Fear and anxiety of the unknown also are contributing to the rise in drinking among Americans. Because this COVID-19 is so new, there are a lot of unknowns about how easily it is spread and how likely you would be to recover should you get it. For some people, these unknowns increase stress and anxiety and may lead them to cope with their emotions in unhealthy ways. When you factor in all the additional emotional turmoil people are experiencing, like losing their jobs and being cut off from other people, it’s not unusual that drinking can feel like a welcome release.

Treating Stress And Addiction

Treating stress and addiction at the same time increases the chance of a person entering recovery. Successful treatment should include stress management. Developing new, healthy coping skills can greatly reduce the risk of relapse. Effective stress management programs and techniques can detract from a person’s desire to take drugs or alcohol and therefore promote a better quality of life. Dual diagnosis treatment facilities can provide tools for learning healthy coping mechanisms and stress management methods that can be beneficial in sustaining sobriety and more balanced life. If a person is suffering from drug abuse and high levels of stress, treatment can help.

Find The Right Stress And Addiction Treatment Plan At We Level Up Florida

If you or someone you love is struggling with a primary mental health disorder like severe stress we can help. Where your primary mental health stress disorder is leading to and triggering secondary substance abuse problems a co-occurring treatment plan will be essential for long-term recovery. For co-occurring, stress and addiction, getting a professional mental health assessment is your first step. We Level Up Florida offers free assessments. With a safe and supervised multi-diagnostic approach to Stress and Addiction Treatment. Contact our team at We Level Up Florida today to learn more!


[1] NIDA – https://archives.drugabuse.gov/publications/stress-substance-abuse-special-report-after-911-terrorist-attacks

[2] CDC – https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm

[3] Psychiatry Research – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165178120322563?via%3Dihub

[4] Stress and AddictionWe Level Up