Stress and addiction

Each of us will encounter stress at some point in our lives. Perhaps you are experiencing a high-pressure week at work, or maybe you have come into some difficulties in your new relationship. Whatever the reason, stress is universal and is usually not a cause for concern. But what about those who undergo constant, chronic stress?

Alarmingly, one 2018 poll indicates that 74% of those surveyed were so stressed during that year that they felt overwhelmed and unable to cope. With so many of us neglecting to manage our stress levels, it is essential that we take precautions to prioritise our well-being, as extreme stress can have a detrimental impact on our mental health. In fact, stress can increase the risk of co-occurring conditions developing, such as depression or addiction.


What is stress?

Stress is the body’s natural reaction to mounting pressure or demand. For some, stress can be constructive, offering motivation for individuals to work harder in achieving their goals and meet the needs that are present in all aspects of their lives. However, for others, stress can be debilitating, causing damage to both their physical and mental health.

As stress is a condition that all of us will suffer from, it can be particularly challenging to differentiate between normal levels of stress to chronic, unhealthy stress. To determine where you fall on the scale, look at the table of examples below:

Normal stress (response to external causes) Chronic stress (no apparent cause or trigger)
Rapid heartbeat Rapid heartbeat
Digestive problems Digestive problems
Trouble sleeping Insomnia
Feeling nervous or on edge Feeling suffocated or helpless
Sweaty palms Shortness of breath
Irritability Recurrent illness

Is chronic stress a mental health condition?

While stress is not considered a mental health condition, it is connected to our mental health in many ways. For example, chronic stress can feel devastating for the sufferer and impossible to manage alone, leaving them more vulnerable to the heightening of pre-existing conditions like anxiety or depression. It is also possible that, in a frantic effort to calm their nerves, the person suffering can turn to addictive substances and behaviours in an attempt to control them, which can lead to severe consequences if not properly addressed.

Stress and addiction

Addiction can change the way the brain functions, with the addicted individual’s mood and conduct changing, prompted by their reliance on the substance or behaviour. It is a condition which can drastically impact the lives of those experiencing it, with the potential to damage our relationships, finances, and careers. While not everyone who suffers stress or takes dangerous substances will develop an addiction, the likelihood of developing one increases in relation to external factors and influences.

For someone who is chronically stressed, it is common to feel out of control and helpless, especially when, for others, these difficult-to-handle tasks might seem perfectly manageable. Stress can lead those suffering down a dangerous path, as they may try to seek out immediate solutions or a quick fix to their problems instead of taking the time to assess what has led these problems to manifest in the first place.

Our bodies’ responses to stress can also increase the risk of addictive behaviours developing as a coping mechanism. When we are in situations that are perceived as dangerous, our brain responds by releasing hormones to protect us from danger and act quickly in life-threatening situations. However, much like those who suffer from anxiety, the brain can have a hard time distinguishing between serious threats and harmless ones, releasing these hormones even when they may not be necessary. Some of the more common incidents that can induce stress include:

  • Relationship troubles
  • Work pressure
  • Life transitions


While none of these events pose immediate danger to our health, the brain can still perceive it as one, triggering stress hormones that can induce a range of uncomfortable physical and mental symptoms. As a result, some people might turn to addictive substances to alleviate this tension.

In some ways, addiction can provide an escape, a way to put your worries on hold and break free from all your fears. An occasional cigarette or quick drink at the pub can be a slippery slope for someone suffering from chronic stress, as they are at risk of relying on these substances just to feel normal or in control. Unfortunately, turning to addictive substances or behaviours in this way will only offer a short-term solution to a long-lasting problem. According to recent studies, chronic distress and addiction vulnerability go hand in hand. Therefore, it is essential to determine whether you use certain behaviours responsibly or instead to alleviate distress.

Signs of stress and addiction

If stress is not managed correctly, it can result in the development of an addiction, which can be very dangerous without the right help. So, ask yourself if any of these statements apply to you. If so, we advise you to seek support.

  • Are you using substances, such as smoking or drinking, to alleviate your worries?
  • Are you turning to behaviours, like eating or gaming, to manage your emotions?
  • Do you feel that you have lost all impulse control?
  • Does your life seem to revolve around your addictive behaviour?

Stress and risk of relapse

Stress is not just dangerous in developing a new addiction, but it can also pose difficulties for those in in addiction recovery who have already been through the rehab process. Because it is common for addictive substances or behaviours to be implemented as a method to manage stress levels, when high-pressure incidents arise, it might seem natural to turn to addiction again when we feel unable to cope.

Studies show that exposure to stress is strongly linked to cravings and compulsive behaviours, and both those struggling with addiction or in recovery can also be more susceptible to stress and stress-related cues. Therefore, it is vital that these issues are carefully monitored, especially in the early stages of recovery.

We can help

If you are dealing with addiction alongside chronic, unmanageable stress, we at Primrose Lodge would like to assure you that you are not alone, and that treatment is a very effective resource in getting your life back on track, without needing to turn to addictive substances. Remember, a stressful event is rarely harmful to us, but it is our emotional reaction that can be dangerous. By simply reframing the way that your mind understands and responds to stress, this can make all the difference. Some of the therapeutic interventions we provide that can significantly improve the ways that you tackle stressful situations include:


If you would like more information about how the rehab process works, as well as all the things our facility can offer for those dealing with stress and addiction, contact a member of our team right away, and we will get you started on the road to health and long-lasting recovery.

Frequently asked questions

Why are stress and addiction linked?
Apart from using substances as a way to cope or escape from chronic stress, studies have also found that chronic stress can enhance cravings, loss of control and compulsion. These are key components in the development of addiction. You may begin using substances casually, but intensified cravings experienced while under stress can quickly transform into an inability to control your urges. Stress and addiction are intrinsically linked – working together to fuel each other and perpetuating vicious cycles of substance abuse.
How can Primrose Lodge help with stress and addiction?
Primrose Lodge offers a therapeutic and calming environment that is designed to minimise stress and support recovery. Our holistic treatment programme provides you with a range of different therapies, including 12-step, DBT, CBT, group therapy, art therapy and mindfulness-based therapies. These therapies not only help you to overcome your addiction, but also teach you valuable skills for handling stress. You will also have the opportunity to take part in activities such as yoga, meditation and gong baths, all of which are proven to reduce stress and promote relaxation.
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