Many people suffering from stress disorders and other forms of mental illness need encouragement, support and empathy from those closest to them. It can be difficult to determine the best ways to approach a person struggling with mental illness, and stress effects are different for everyone.
However challenging it may be, developing healthy coping strategies and trying various types of stress-management techniques can prevent people struggling with mental illness from falling into addiction. An important part of addiction awareness is understanding the main risk factors for addiction, and stress is one of the most prevalent.
Relationship Between Stress and Mental Illness
There are countless possible stress causes in the world, and every individual will respond to them differently. However, people who suffer from mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and other conditions may have trouble using typical coping techniques.
They may also feel the negative effects of different types of stress more acutely and take longer to recover from periods of extreme stress. Unfortunately, many of these individuals begin to consider alcohol or addictive drugs as the only viable stress busters available.
Types of Stress
Some people experience high-stress situations acutely during disasters, emergencies and traumatic events. Others may experience consistent but less severe stress over time from work, school or everyday obligations.
People who experience extremely stressful incidents may develop mental health conditions as a result. One of the most common is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition affecting combat veterans and victims and witnesses of violent crimes, disasters and accidents.
PTSD can cause nightmares, periods of extreme depression, paranoia and a host of other symptoms. This condition is just one example of how acute stress can cause long-term problems, but chronic exposure to lower-stress situations is also damaging. The workplace is a stressful environment for many people, for example.
Unless these individuals develop viable methods of handling their everyday stressors, chronic stress can start to affect physical and emotional health.
Stress Effects: How Stress Can Lead to Addiction
Stress can eventually lead to addiction without healthy alternative coping strategies. One of the most vital steps of addiction recovery is discerning the root cause or origin of a substance use disorder, and one of the most commonly cited causes is stress.
Some people feel overwhelmed by their circumstances and turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. The brief periods of artificial happiness, relaxation and euphoria that drugs provide will eventually devolve into habit, routine and then full-blown addiction.
Drugs as Coping Tools
Different drugs may appear to alleviate stress in different ways, and people may use them for various reasons as coping tools. It’s crucial to understand the dangers of different types of drug dependencies:
- Opioids: Someone suffering from mental illness may begin to self-treat their symptoms with drugs meant for physical pain, and opioid painkillers are the strongest painkillers available.
- Hallucinogens: Distorting one’s perception of reality can feel like a welcome escape when reality is stressful or too difficult to handle sober. Hallucinogenic drugs can eventually deteriorate one’s personality and interpretations of reality, leading to serious psychological problems over time.
- Benzodiazepines and tranquilizers: People who struggle with anxiety disorders may receive prescriptions for benzodiazepine medications and begin abusing these drugs. Anti-anxiety drugs can produce feelings of calm, and eventually a person will begin to rely solely on these drugs for relief from stressful situations.
- Alcohol: One of the most commonly abused substances on Earth can lower inhibitions, create pleasurable feelings and act as a “social lubricant.” Many people rely upon alcohol to unwind after stressful days at work. Unfortunately, alcoholism progresses rapidly, and the lifestyle of a high-functioning alcoholic isn’t tenable.
Cycles of Dependency
Stress never really ends; we just develop better ways of handling it over time. However, resorting to substance abuse creates a slew of new stressors.
Addiction effects vary for everyone, but the overwhelming majority of addicts face:
- Economic ruin
- Damaged personal relationships
- Strained career choices
- Myriad physical health concerns
The Effects of Stress and Addiction on the Mind and Body
Chronic stress can deteriorate physical health, leading to problems such as:
- Obesity (from overeating as a coping mechanism)
- Sleep difficulties
- Mood swings
- Many other possible issues
Instead of treating stress by self-medicating, one should learn healthier coping strategies to prevent substance abuse and make it easier to both handle everyday stress and recover from acute stressors.
Stress Management: Developing Better Ways to Cope
Addiction treatment services typically include a full regimen of holistic and natural therapies and activities to de-stress the mind and body and to recover more wholly from substance abuse.
A few examples of effective stress-relief treatments include:
- Exercise and physical activities: A healthier body naturally encourages better mental health, and a person with a healthy physical body can better handle and process stress in optimum ways.
- Meditation and mindfulness exercises: These practices can help overcome the psychological effects of stress.
- Behavior therapy: People struggling with mental health disorders often need behavioral therapy to understand their situations and process stress in constructive ways. Addiction behavior generally focuses on reward-seeking patterns and responses to stimuli. Behavioral therapy can help a person acknowledge dangerous patterns and develop healthier responses to his or her environment.
- Support from friends and family: One of the most essential tools in addiction treatment is building and rebuilding personal relationships. Suffering from a mental health disorder or substance use disorder can be very isolating. Thus, interpersonal relationships are crucial for overcoming the loneliness that substance abuse often entails.
Help for Stress and Substance Abuse
There are many resources for addiction help and addiction treatment available, but it’s important to know what to expect from the rehab experience. For instance, physically removing drugs from the body (aka detox) is just the first step in a long process.
Addiction help is available for those willing to take the next step and learn to manage their stress in healthier ways. If you or your loved one is battling substance abuse along with excess stress or a mental health condition, look into Reflection Recovery Center today. We will craft an individualized treatment plan that can help you or your loved one learn to manage stressors in healthier ways while recovering from addiction in an inpatient setting.