Substance Abuse & Stress

After a stressful day, it’s not uncommon for many adults to unwind with a glass of wine or to pop a sleeping pill when re-hashing the stresses of the day just won’t allow your mind to rest. However, this can become a problem for those who have gotten to the point of using prescription drugs, alcohol or other substances as a means of coping with daily stressors instead of finding more healthy, productive ways to handle life’s speed bumps.

Link between stress and substance abuse

According to a report published by the National Institutes of Health, stress is considered a significant factor in not only the beginning of alcohol and drug abuse, but also in relapses. The report notes that between 40 and 60 percent of those recovering from substance abuse will have at least one relapse because of insufficient skills to handle social pressure to “use,” psychological and physical reminders of past use, “insufficient skills for handling negative emotions or interpersonal conflict” or continued exposure to situations that may encourage the use of drugs or alcohol. 

Is it possible to use stress management techniques to fight the instinct to “escape” via drugs or alcohol? Experts say, yes. Possible treatment techniques include social support, problem-solving and coping skills. It is also vital to choose the right program and approach that is based upon your needs.

Developing coping skills

One of the most important thinks a person with a substance abuse problem can develop are coping skills. This includes finding ways to manage stress and deal with stressors—or triggers—that may cause a relapse. Drug or alcohol treatment programs can help patients identify their triggers and teach ways in which to handle future stressful situations.

Engaging in constructive activities

Patients are encouraged to develop constructive hobbies and engage in activities that don’t involve or expose them to the temptations of substance abuse. When an alcoholic, for example, is thrust back into the old social circles or places, like bars, peers may once again provide that temptation, causing him to relapse. It’s important to identify the high-risk situations that caused a patient to to use in order to cope in the past—that way, these situations can be identified and avoided in the future. 

Exercise is a great way to handle stress without reaching for that old crutch. Nutritional counseling may also assist patients in their struggle to stay clean, and both can improve their feeling of self-worth and health. Group and individual counseling and therapy can also be of benefit. Speaking to others who face the same temptations and battle the same issues can teach people a lot about new coping techniques and may also lessen their own stress, especially if they don’t have strong support network at home or among friends. Sometimes, old relationships and family dynamics may be the cause of stress and abuse in the first place!

Taking new steps

Everyone experiences stress in a different way. Sometimes, you have to leave the old to achieve the new, and this may mean making new friends, taking new steps and entering previously uncharted territory to discover interests that will encourage your growth and development.  People need support in order to be successful and prior alcohol and drug abuse may cause patients to be more susceptible to relapse, since abuse affects their brain functions and response to stressors. Stress management techniques help patients become aware of their stressors and teach them how to cope with the stress of daily life.