Experiencing chronic stress greatly increases a person’s risk of developing a substance use disorder or relapsing. Learn about the connection between stress and substance abuse.

Combining stress with drug abuse is dangerous. Stress is one of the most common triggers for experiencing setbacks related to recovery. However, for a person with a mild substance use disorder or who is only using substances socially, stress can be the tipping point leading to developing a substance use disorder.

Effects of Substance Abuse on Stress Symptoms

Every day, people have a drink to relax. This practice is a socially acceptable reason to drink alcohol. However, with all the symptoms of stress, is stress drinking helpful? Does using substances increase stress levels or help people cope with stress?

Stress and Alcohol

Drinking alcohol to relieve stress is a common practice. Despite the anecdotal suggestion that drinking can help a person unwind, drinking alcohol to cope with stress is ineffective. Physical side effects of alcohol use paired with symptoms of stress can wreak havoc on the body. In addition to potential concerns about health conditions turning to alcohol every time a stressful situation arises prevents the development of natural coping skills.

Stress and Marijuana

A person using marijuana will likely report feeling a decrease in stress and anxiety. While this outcome may be true for some people, the relationship between marijuana and stress is more complex. When the effects of marijuana wear off, a rebound effect of increased anxiety is likely. Many long-term marijuana users report feeling unable to handle routine stressors.

Stress and Stimulants

When overwhelmed with stress, the thought of taking a drug and suddenly having the energy to be able to complete more tasks in less time may seem appealing. The hopes of reducing workload often motivate people to use stimulants, especially prescription stimulants. One of the largest problems with the stress and stimulant connection is the high risk of developing an addiction.

Stress and Smoking

Stress smoking is common. Many people feel that smoking a cigarette is a stress reliever. While this may seem true to a person who has already developed nicotine dependence, beginning an association of smoking and stress may increase the risk of becoming addicted in people not yet dependent on nicotine. Repeatedly turning to a substance such as nicotine in times of stress creates an association of needing that substance to cope.

Statistics on Stress and Drug Abuse

Stress is one of the most common risk factors of relapse. Experiencing chronic stress can also increase the likelihood that a person will develop a substance use disorder. Stress and drug abuse statistics can help clarify the stress and substance use link. Even after long periods of abstinence, experiencing stress increases thoughts of returning to drug use and increases the likelihood of relapse. Studies have shown that even when substance use is not present prior to experiencing stress, alcohol and other drugs are more likely to be sought out when stress occurs.

Can Stress Cause Drug Addiction?

Experiencing chronic stress greatly increases a person’s risk of developing a substance use disorder.

When a person routinely uses drugs to cope with stress, they are less likely to develop healthy coping skills for stress. A person may begin to feel that the only way they can cope with stress is by using drugs. This cycle has the potential to lead to addiction. Others may consciously use drugs as a form of self-medication. This is particularly true for people with chronic stress.

Treating Stress with Co-Occurring Substance Abuse

Treating stress alongside co-occurring substance abuse increases the probability of a person entering recovery. Successful treatment should include stress management. Developing new, healthy coping skills can greatly reduce the risk of relapse. If you or a loved one is using alcohol or other drugs to cope with stress, The Recovery Village is ready to help. Speak with a representative today to learn more about our individualized treatment programs.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Denise-Marie Griswold, LCAS
Denise-Marie Griswold is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist. She earned her Master's Degree in Substance Abuse and Clinical Counseling from East Carolina University in 2014. Read more

Hassanbeigi, A., Askari, J., Hassanbeigi, D., and Pourmovahed, Z. “The Relationship Between Stress and Addiction.” Science Direct, July 9, 2013. Accessed March 12, 2019.

Heshmat, S. “Studies Link Stress and Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, April 1, 1999. Accessed March 12, 2019.

Sinha R. “Chronic Stress, Drug Use and Vulnerability to Addiction.” National Library of Medicine, October 2008. Accessed March 12, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.