The Stress of Addiction

It is safe to say that everyone encounters stress on a regular basis: infants, children, adults, seniors, and especially those that are dealing with illness.  Because addiction is defined as a chronic and progressive disease, it follows that someone afflicted with the disease is also under stress:  in actuality an addict is most likely under severe stress.

However, stress does not come in just one form; stress can manifest itself in any number of ways within the individual.  The symptoms of stress can also exhibit themselves in several ways:

Certainly some of these symptoms are familiar; however, what is not as familiar are the form of stressors in our lives.  Stress can manifest itself as a helpful form called eustress:  eustress helps to motivate action and improve long-term functioning by providing a sense of fulfillment or other positive feeling.  For example, meeting or engaging in a challenge, accomplishing a difficult physical or mental task, riding a thrilling roller coaster, or making a large purchase: these are all examples of eustress.  But eustress is normally not the challenge for people in recovery; chronic stress usually is.

Chronic stress is simply a prolonged stress response in the brain over a significant period of time, combined with the belief that nothing can be done to change the situation.  Chronic stress can be achieved in many ways:

Most people encounter chronic stress when multiple stressors build up in their lives.  While the individual stressors do not seem unmanageable on their own, the combination of stressors can be intense.  That is why it is so important to be self-aware of one’s stress level on an ongoing basis: particularly for those in recovery from addiction.  The reason it is imperative for a recovering addict to be self-aware of their stress level is because high stress combined with physical craving will most often lead to drug and alcohol use and acting-out behavior.  Here is a simple gauge to measure one’s stress level at any given time:

Managing stress is very individualized: what works for some people may not work for others.  In most cases, managing stress involves two separate strategies working at the same time:  1 – find ways to minimize stressors in one’s life, and 2 – build coping skills to manage one’s stress more effectively.  When the two techniques are used together, stressors will be much more manageable.

Minimizing stress in one’s life is the result of either avoiding the stressors, or altering the stressful situation.  Here are some suggestions on how to do each:

Building coping skills to manage one’s stressors more effectively is the result of acceptance or adaptation.  Here are some suggestions on how to do each:

There are other common sense stress reduction techniques that work very well for momentary stress caused by circumstances that cannot be avoided.  These techniques can also work to mildly lower stress levels throughout the day.  The most common techniques are deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, exercising, and stretching.

Seek out the techniques that work best and stick with them.  Remember that stress is primarily a function of one’s own mind, so take responsibility and take action.


By Andrew Martin, MBA, LAADC, SAP, CA-CCS