Stress is the mental and/or emotional strain we experience under conditions of physical or emotional challenge, demand, threat, or adversity. The impacts of extreme stress can go beyond causing you to feel unhappy, upset, or fatigued. Brief stress caused by exciting challenges can be generally beneficial for people. But, chronic stress due to continuously negative circumstances or severe stress from a traumatic experience can cause damage to your mental, emotional, and physical health. One serious effect of excessive stress is increased vulnerability to substance addiction.
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Stress is a normal physical response to external events and conditions. In fact, stress is an essential physiological safeguard that activates necessary self-protective responses to external threats. The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) categorizes various types of stress this way:
|Type of Stress||Cause of Stress|
|Normal stress||Normal stress related, for example, to your job, family, and other obligations.|
|Sudden stress||Acute stress is caused by unexpected changes that trigger stress, such as a job loss, a financial loss, etc.|
|Stress due to trauma||Extreme stress from, for example, witnessing a traumatic incident or being exposed to the perceived danger to your physical safety, such as in a natural disaster or being under threat of an attack.|
Further, stress is classified as either chronic or acute:
Moderate temporary stress generally is not found to have significant long-term health effects. However, chronic stress or trauma-induced stress that persists over time can seriously impact some or all aspects of your life and your health. A stressful experience triggers stress hormones, like cortisol, to increase, and the body goes into flight-or-fight mode. Staying in that mode for prolonged periods (chronic stress) can lead to serious health consequences, such as:
The connection between stress and widespread substance abuse cannot be overestimated. The American Psychological Association (APA) has identified stress relief as one of the most common reasons why people use drugs. Drug or alcohol use can initially make people feel less stressed, but continuing use leads to more stress. For instance, substance abuse frequently leads to:
Stress and Addiction Relapse: In what too often becomes a vicious circle, these ill-effects of substance abuse frequently lead to more substance abuse, which leads to increases in the unhealthy effects! Using drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with stress often leads to addiction. For people in addiction recovery, this can lead to relapse. For much safer and more effective ways to manage stress, see helpful alternative ideas and great resources for stress management and addiction recovery.
The ways you choose to manage life’s normal stresses can set your course for a future of happiness and peace of mind, or for addiction, increased stress, anxiety, and potential depression. It can be a choice between preserving your physical and mental health or forfeiting those long-term benefits for immediate and brief stress relief. Choosing healthy ways to cope with stress is fundamental for lasting recovery for people already in recovery from addiction.
Some very effective ways to help yourself feel better when experiencing overwhelming stress include the ideas on the list below. These are recommended for you by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS), Renaissance Ranch addiction recovery center, Ogden, Utah, and others:
We provide comprehensive substance addiction treatment in the comfortable environment of our state-of-the-art Addiction Recovery Center in Ogden, UT. Renaissance Ranch offers assessments, interventions, recovery programs, and outpatient addiction therapy. We help our clients learn the science behind substance abuse and the connection between stress management and addiction recovery. Our professional addiction treatment team helps you develop the tools to manage stress, find peace of mind, and achieve and maintain a life free from substance abuse.
We provide affordable treatment that helps families heal and restore hope.
Cravings are natural in alcohol and drug addiction recovery and through periods of relapse recovery, especially for people who have recently achieved sobriety. You can experience sudden intense urges to use drugs or drink, and it can feel too difficult to resist. But, you can get through cravings, and fortunately, they do pass. Maintain ongoing support through your outpatient drug treatment center. Seek advice there, and share the experiences you’re having with others who know first-hand what you’re going through.
Additionally, when you find you’re struggling to overpower a craving for a drink or drug, use one of these time-proven relapse prevention tips:
Just being able to talk to someone who really gets what you’re dealing with can be enough to distract you from stressing and obsessing about the intense feeling of need to use. You may notice that the majority of cravings seem most extreme when you’re alone, without anything to give you a break from your thoughts, which are fixating on the craving. Being with another person gives you an alternative point of focus. Plus it can help a lot not to feel so alone.
Call a friend, or fellow member of your recovery group, or a therapist. Just making the move to communicate can often help ease a strong craving virtually immediately. Today’s ground-breaking 24/7 online support group meetings are an outstanding resource for helping get through cravings.
Turn your attention to a favorite hobby, and commit to spending at least some amount of time on it. Turn up the volume on your favorite music while you’re at it, or open a window and enjoy some decompressing nature sounds. Or, find a favorite movie or TV show and use it for some comforting background noise while you do something great. Maybe practice with your guitar, play chess or D&D online, work on your Mustang rebuild, master the new recipe, or indulge in any old pastime you love.
Journaling can be cathartic during a craving, and so can letter writing, songwriting, poetry writing, book writing, pretty much any kind of writing. Write a letter to your congressman about any one of the thousands of things that are worth offering your input on. Dance around the house. Play with your dog. Plan a trip. Paint a wall or a picture. Make a list of things you’re grateful for. The possibilities for rewarding distractions are truly endless.
Your first reaction may be, “Ugh, exercise.” But, just pick something to do up on your feet. Take a walk, or a run, or a bike ride. Or, play sports on Wii. Exercise is great for stress relief, an important component in relapse prevention. Light exercise has been shown to have potent positive effects on the sense of wellbeing, mood, general mental health, and physical well-being. It’s also effective for help curbing drug cravings.
You don’t need to do a pro-athlete level weight training session or high-impact aerobic routine to realize the important benefits of exercise for addiction recovery. Just get a little physical. Walk on a treadmill or peddle a stationary bike while watching TV. Or, dance to your favorite playlist for a couple of 10-15 minute sessions per day. Follow the yoga lady on TV, or do your own freestyle movements. Just pop up off the chair and be active for some quality minutes to help crush a craving.
Several factors can add up to make overcoming cravings and preventing relapse more difficult than the average person in recovery may experience. Depending on the kind of substance addiction you’ve been recovering from, the dosages you had been consuming, and how long you had been using, you might need some medical assistance initially to help you get through the predictable cravings.
Ask your doctor or addiction recovery specialist if medically assisted detox could help ease withdrawal symptoms you may be experiencing and help you safely stop using. Ask about available non-narcotic medications and other options that can possibly reduce intense urges and cravings.
Managing cravings is much of a challenge in relapse prevention. Using the above or other favorite coping mechanisms to weather cravings and relieve stress during cravings are keys to preventing relapse. Another is being as well prepared as possible for cravings, so you can see them coming and be ready to stop them from dominating your focus.
Make a list of your triggers, and prioritize avoiding those in your daily routine. If you notice any trends, such as having the urge to drink after work, or in certain social situations, note those and adjust your habits to give yourself something healthy to do in those circumstances. For example, maybe take a new route home that doesn’t pass a familiar bar along the way.
We provide comprehensive addiction recovery programs for alcohol and drug addiction. We can help you regain control of your life and develop powerful tools and skills for overcoming vulnerability to triggers and for enjoying making the most of your new life beyond substance abuse.
Our clients learn the science behind addiction and how to gain the power to free themselves from substance abuse. We also provide family therapy, to help loved ones who so often are struggling along with people in recovery, to help develop an understanding of deeper issues and rebuild strong bonds.
Renaissance offers free evaluations. We’re available 24/7 to talk with you about affordable addiction treatment that helps heal people suffering from addiction and restores hope in a meaningful and happier future.
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