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How Stress Management Can Aid Rehab

How Stress Management Can Aid Rehab

Staying connected to your support group and attending extra meetings can help you deal with stress-related cravings

According to a special report by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there was a significant increase in the street sale of certain drugs. The general public was so shaken by the events of that day (plus the fear of what might happen next) that many people turned to substance abuse to deal with their stress. For those people who struggle with substance abuse or have a family history of addiction, stress can greatly increase the risk of addiction and relapse; this fact is true even after someone goes through a long period of sobriety. The NIDA report also notes that many clinicians and addiction specialists site stress as the number one cause of relapse for recovering addicts, including those who smoke cigarettes.

Scientific studies show that an actual physical response to stress happens in the brain. And increase of a peptide called corticotropin releasing factor is responsible for biological responses to stress. For instance, for people with posttraumatic stress disorder, it takes longer for their brains to return to normal after the release of the peptide than those who do not suffer from the condition. In either case, the increase of stress-related behaviors (including substance abuse) is directly linked to this biological response in the brain.

As provided by the NIDA, the following facts can help you understand the relationship between stress and addiction:

  • People who endure great stress are more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs or experience addiction relapse
  • In an analysis of factors that lead to continued drug use among opiate addicts, high stress is found to predict continued drug use
  • Stressors increase vulnerability for drug self-administration in animals that had previously never been exposed to illicit substances
  • Acute stress can improve memory, whereas chronic stress can impair memory and may impair cognitive function
  • Research shows an overlap between neural circuits that respond to drugs and those that respond to stress
  • Researchers have discovered that, among drug-free cocaine abusers in treatment, exposure to stressful situations leads to significant increases in cocaine cravings, along with activation of emotional stress and a physiological stress response. In another study of cocaine abusers in treatment, significant increases in cocaine and alcohol craving can be observed with stress and drug cues imagery, but not with neutral-relaxing imagery.
  • A follow-up study of smokers who had completed a national program to quit shows that there is a strong relationship between stress-coping resources and the ability to avoid smoking
  • Animal studies have shown that stress induces relapse to heroin, cocaine, alcohol and nicotine self-administration

In other words, stress increases drug abuse and relapse patterns.

Stress and the Body

Stress is the body’s reaction to any change that requires a response. It can be strong or slight, long-lasting or end quickly; no matter the duration or the level of the response, it has a lasting impact on the body. Prolonged stress can put the body in a state of distress and lead to physical symptoms. Some of the symptoms of stress include the following issues:

  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach/nausea
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Chest pain
  • Insomnia

Research also shows that stress can make certain diseases, like autoimmune conditions, worse. A body that is in a constant state of stress is never able to properly rest or relax. WedMD lists the following statistics with regard to the physical signs of stress:

  • 43 percent of adults suffer some adverse health effects due to stress
  • 75 to 90 percent of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related illness or complaints
  • Stress plays a role in conditions such as diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression and anxiety
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) added stress to their list of hazards in the workplace. According to OSHA, stress costs American industry over $300 billion each year.
  • More than 50 percent of all lifelong emotional/mental illnesses are attributed to chronic, untreated stress.

Stress not only encourages drug abuse, but it also leads to considerable health problems.

Healthy Stress Management

Finding ways to manage stress without drugs and alcohol can keep you or a loved one on the road to a drug-free life. While in rehab, you learned coping strategies to deal with drug cravings. Drug cravings are most often brought on by periods of stress, and even the smallest amount of stress can bring back intense cravings for drugs. Thus, staying connected to your support group and attending extra meetings can help you deal with stress-related cravings until they pass. Furthermore, have a plan in place that includes spending time with friends and loved ones, daily exercise, seeing your therapist regularly and developing healthy eating habits: this plan helps you maintain an emotionally healthy state of mind. Prevent stress by employing the lessons you learned in rehab, and you will also reduce the risk of relapse.

Find Help for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

If you or a loved one struggles with substance abuse, then now that we are here for you. Call our toll-free, 24 hour helpline to speak to an admissions coordinator about available treatment options.