Stress is a big risk factor in addiction commencement, maintenance, and relapse, causing any treatment a person receives to fail. A series of stressful life events combined with poor coping skills may increase the risk someone will engage in risk taking and self-medicating. While it’s not possible to totally rid one’s life of stress, there are effective ways a person can manage it.

Stress normally refers to adversity or hardship such as grief, poverty or other troubling situations. When a person experiences a stressful event, it can cause many physical issues in the body such as a rise in blood pressure, the release of stress hormones, and depression. The Fight-or-Flight hormone, cortisol, is a normal response to stress and all the blood goes to the muscles so a person is ready for action.

It is important to distinguish the differences between chronic and normal stressors. Moderate and challenging stress which is limited to a short period of time is sometimes perceived to be almost pleasant. Some people actually seek out stressful situations, that promote the release of stress hormones. However, long-term stressors, such as the loss of a loved one or job loss, produce feelings of inadequacy, depression and helplessness.

Chronic stress brings about an increased risk of someone developing depression, colds, influenza, migraines, teeth grinding or jaw clenching. Having a traumatic and troubled childhood is a key factor in making people more vulnerable later in life. The link between early adversity and late life problems runs through social changes.

Experiencing high levels of stress in life can cause methylation of the key genes which control stress. That is to say, early trauma alters a person’s genetics and then this happens, someone lives in a constant state of anxiety and stress.

There is rock solid proof of the link between chronic stress, and the motivation a person has to abuse drugs or alcohol. Human research studies have shown an adverse childhood trauma, such as sexual abuse, violence, physical abuse or family dysfunction is associated with an increased likelihood of the risk for addiction. People in an unhappy relationship/marriage, dissatisfaction with their job or harassment, also report a higher risk of becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Experiencing high emotional stress is associated with a loss of impulse control and the inability to delay gratification. Chronically stressed people are likely to give in to their impulses such as smoking, drinking, over eating, and drug abuse, as a means of coping with daily stress.

In total, the more stressful life events are for someone, coupled with poor coping skills, these things could impact the risk of addiction. These reasons explain why it’s important to have a better understanding of how stress works and to offer skills development and relapse prevention options at an addiction treatment program.