Stress and Recovery from Addiction

One of the biggest challenges to long-term addiction recovery is stress. Stress can undo all of our hard work in recovery as high-stress levels are often the driving force behind substance and alcohol use.

We know that once we have recovered from an addiction, the occurrence of stressful events in our lives is a significant risk factor for relapse vulnerability.

Addiction recovery and stress

The process of addiction recovery is not to be taken lightly. Recovery from addiction takes a substantial amount of motivation, determination, and support. The initial withdrawal stages are a source of great stress and discomfort. Once the withdrawal phase has passed, we face a new challenge, managing our emotional lives without the help of substances and alcohol. However, with proper support, stress relief can come from a targeted therapeutic strategy.

It is important to know that managing negative emotions is a skill that needs to be learned. Some of us are able to learn how to cope with stress and negative emotion during childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. Managing emotions is a process that takes place as we mature. However, not all of us were lucky enough to grow up in an environment that taught us healthy coping strategies. Our parents may have struggled with an addiction themselves. They may have had mental health challenges that brought significant distress and dysfunction to the entire family. Understanding the impact of early life stress can be a crucial factor in your recovery process as an adult.

Stress and Recovery from Addiction Close up of young girl holding someone's hand

Early-life stress and vulnerability to addiction

Adults who experienced early-life stress, such as growing up in dysfunctional families and/or experiencing child maltreatment, can be more vulnerable to the effects of stress. Early stress increases the physiological reactivity of the nervous system. What this means is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) — the part of the nervous system responsible for reactions to threat has become altered. As a result, the HPA axis becomes more sensitive and chronically reactive, making it very difficult to manage stress in adulthood.

An over-reactive HPA axis causes us to feel stress more often, and once we become upset, it is more difficult to return to a feeling of calm. This creates a substantial challenge in maintaining emotional stability and addiction recovery.

Research shows that people who experience chronic stress are more likely to use substances and alcohol as a way to manage negative emotions. Substances that change your emotions can quickly become a form of self-medication and lead to dependency and addiction.

Stress management and relapse prevention

If you are in recovery or have recovered it is important to protect yourself from the effects of stress. A professional counselor trained in addiction medicine not only understands what you are experiencing but also knows just what is at stake. Stress reduction, assistance in developing coping skills as well as creating a lifestyle strategy that will support you is essential to maintaining long-term recovery.

Professionals not familiar with addiction may not understand the seriousness of the effects of stress. If you are experiencing challenges, reach out for qualified help that will become a crucial part of your support system.

A holistic approach to healing

Whether you have recovered from an addiction, are in the process of recovery, or have just begun to realize you need to make a change, help is available.

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