Stress and Addiction: Using Drugs to Cope with Stress

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Stress and addiction can be closely interlinked. Stress often plays a significant role in the development of addiction, acting as a potential risk factor. This risk becomes even more pronounced when people experience stress during early childhood or endure prolonged periods of chronic stress. Beyond this, for those already caught in the grip of addiction, stress can act as a significant obstacle to recovery, while simultaneously increasing the likelihood of returning to substance use.

Coping with stress in recovery could be the difference between relapse and ongoing sobriety. This guide to stress and recovery will equip you with the tools to use healthy coping mechanisms instead of using drugs to cope with stressors.

Can Stress Lead to Addiction?

The relationship between stress and substance abuse is complex, but it is widely recognized that stress can contribute to the development of addictive behaviors. For many who experience high levels of stress, substance abuse is a coping mechanism to alleviate their discomfort or escape from overwhelming emotions. This self-medication can create a temporary sense of relief or distraction from the stressors at hand. Regrettably, relying on substances or addictive behaviors for stress relief can lead to a dangerous cycle of dependence and addiction, while doing nothing to address the underlying issues.

Chronic or recurring stress can also have a profound impact on the brain’s reward system. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters involved in pleasure and reward – dopamine, for instance. This disruption can make people more susceptible to the allure of addictive substances or behaviors, as they may provide a temporary boost in pleasurable feelings or a sense of control.

To mitigate the risk of stress leading to addiction, it is beneficial to prioritize stress management and to develop healthier coping mechanisms rather than using drugs to cope with stress. Engaging in regular exercise, practicing relaxation techniques like meditation or deep breathing, seeking social support, and maintaining a balanced lifestyle can all contribute to reducing stress levels. By cultivating healthy strategies to manage stress, it is possible to reduce the risk of addiction and improve well-being.

a woman sits with her head down in the shadow of a window, representing the effects of using drugs to cope with stress.

Can Stress Lead to Relapse?

Stress is a significant risk factor for relapse among those in recovery from addiction to alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs. The challenges and pressures associated with stress can trigger intense cravings and emotional turmoil, undermining the progress made in maintaining sobriety. Stressful situations, whether related to work, relationships, financial concerns, or personal struggles, can test an individual’s resilience and coping skills.

The experience of stress can evoke a range of emotions, such as anxiety, frustration, or helplessness, which can make individuals more susceptible to using addictive substances or engaging in negative behaviors. The desire to numb or escape from the stressors, even momentarily, can overpower a person’s commitment to sobriety, leading to a relapse.

To safeguard against stress-induced relapse, people in recovery are encouraged to adopt effective stress management techniques. This may involve seeking professional support through therapy or counseling to develop healthier coping strategies. Building a strong support network of friends, family, or support groups can provide invaluable guidance and understanding during times of stress. Additionally, engaging in self-care practices, such as regular exercise, practicing mindfulness, maintaining a balanced lifestyle, and engaging in enjoyable activities, can bolster emotional well-being and resilience in the face of stressors.

By proactively addressing stress and developing healthy coping mechanisms, individuals can streamline their recovery journey and minimize the risk of relapse.

Healthy Coping Mechanisms for Dealing with Stress in Recovery

Here are 10 actionable ways to deal with stress in your recovery from addiction:

  1. Deep breathing: Perform some deep breathing exercises to slow down your heart rate and promote relaxation. Breathe in deeply through your nose, hold your breath for a few seconds, then exhale through your mouth.
  2. Mindfulness meditation: Set aside a few minutes each day to practice mindfulness meditation. Focus on the present moment, observe your thoughts without judgment, and let go of stress-inducing worries.
  3. Physical exercise: Engage in regular physical activity to release endorphins and reduce stress. Whether it’s going for a walk, jogging, dancing, or practicing yoga, find an exercise that suits you and makes you feel good.
  4. Social support: Reach out to friends, family, or support groups for emotional support. Talking to someone you trust can provide perspective, comfort, and reassurance during stressful times.
  5. Time management: Create a structured schedule to prioritize tasks and reduce overwhelming feelings. Break down large tasks into smaller, manageable steps, and allocate time for relaxation and self-care.
  6. Creative outlets: Engage in creative activities that help you relax and express yourself. This could include painting, writing, playing a musical instrument, or any other form of artistic expression that brings you joy.
  7. Healthy lifestyle: Maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating balanced meals, getting enough sleep, and avoiding excessive caffeine and alcohol. Taking care of your physical well-being can positively impact your ability to cope with stress.
  8. Relaxation techniques: Explore various relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, or using aromatherapy. Find what helps you unwind and incorporate it into your daily routine.
  9. Positive self-talk: Challenge any negative thoughts and replace them with more positive alternatives. Remind yourself of your strengths and, accomplishments to boost your confidence and resilience.
  10. Time for self-care: Dedicate time for self-care activities that rejuvenate and nourish your mind, body, and soul. This could include taking a bubble bath, reading a book, practicing self-reflection, or engaging in hobbies you enjoy.

Remember, everyone is unique, so it’s important to find coping mechanisms that work best for you. Feel free to try out different strategies and tailor them to your needs and preferences.

A woman sits looking out at a sunset to represent stress and recovery in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Get Treatment for Mental Health and Addiction at Ohio Recovery

Welcome to Ohio Recovery Centers, where we are dedicated to providing personalized addiction treatment programs that prioritize mental health and holistic recovery. Whether you are struggling with alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit narcotics, we are here to help.

Extensive research demonstrates that mild and moderate addictions can be effectively treated through intensive outpatient programs, offering comparable results to residential rehab. By opting for outpatient treatment, you can benefit from enhanced flexibility and affordability without compromising the quality of care you receive. At our Cincinnati rehab facility, you can choose from a range of programs tailored to meet your specific requirements:

  • IOPs (intensive outpatient programs): Our IOPs offer a less restrictive treatment option that still delivers effective results. You will attend therapy sessions several times a week, allowing you to maintain your daily routines and responsibilities.
  • Outpatient treatment programs: Many people step down to a traditional outpatient program after completing an IOP. Get ongoing care in the early phase of addiction recovery.

Ohio Recovery Centers integrates pharmacological, behavioral, and holistic therapies to create a science-backed approach to recovery. Our treatment programs are designed to equip you with relapse prevention strategies, coping techniques, and the necessary tools to achieve lasting sobriety. Additionally, we offer ongoing therapy options to support your long-term recovery journey, ensuring that you have access to continued care when needed.

Take the first step towards your recovery by contacting our admissions team today. Call 877-679-2132 for immediate assistance and to begin your transformative journey towards a healthier, happier life.


How does stress affect addiction?

Stress can significantly impact addiction by increasing the likelihood of substance abuse and addictive behaviors. Stress activates the brain’s reward system, leading individuals to seek relief or escape through substances or addictive activities.

Why is stress a risk factor for addiction?

Stress is considered a risk factor for addiction due to its ability to disrupt the brain’s normal functioning. Chronic stress can alter the brain’s reward pathways and increase susceptibility to addictive substances or behaviors. Stressful experiences can also contribute to cravings and relapse in individuals with a history of addiction.

What are three psychological signs of addiction?

A person may engage in the addictive behavior or substance use despite negative consequences, losing control over their actions and finding it difficult to stop. Individuals may experience intense desires or urges for the substance or behavior they are addicted to, leading to a preoccupation with obtaining and using it. When someone abruptly stops or reduces their substance use or addictive behavior, they may experience physical and psychological symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, depression, or restlessness. These symptoms can drive them to continue using or engaging in the addictive behavior to alleviate the discomfort.

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Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
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Christopher Glover CDCA

My name is Christopher Glover, and I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am currently in school and working to grow in competence to better support our community. As a recovering individual I know the struggles that you or a loved one can go through and that there is help for anything you may be struggling with.

The hardest part is asking for help and we are here as a team to best support you and your decision to start your journey towards a better future. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn

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Amanda Kuchenberg PRS CDCA

I recently joined Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers as a Clinical Case Manager. I am originally from Wisconsin but settled in the Cincinnati area in my early 20s.  My career started in the fashion industry but quickly changed as I searched to find my drive and passion through helping others who struggle with addiction. 

As someone who is also in recovery, I wanted to provide hope, share lived experience, and support others on their journey.  I currently have my Peer Recovery Support Supervision Certification along with my CDCA and plan to continue my education with University of Cincinnati so I can continue to aid in the battle against substance addiction. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.

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Patrick McCamley LCDC III

 Patrick McCamley (Clinical Therapist) is a Cincinnati native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2019. Patrick received his bachelors degree in psychology from University of Cincinnati in 2021 and received his LCDC III (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2022. Patrick has worked in Clinical Operations, Clinical Case Management, and Clinical Therapy throughout his career.

Patrick has tremendous empathy and compassion for the recovery community, being in recovery himself since 2018. Patrick is uniquely qualified to be helpful because of the specific combination of his academic background and his own experience in recovery.

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Bill Zimmerman CDCA

Bill Zimmerman is a Greater Cincinnati Area native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2018. Bill received his (Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2020.

Bill has worked in Clinical Operations in both support and supervision, and Program facilitating and 12 step recovery support during his career. Bill has a passion for the recovery community, having been in recovery himself since 1982. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn

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Taylor Lilley CDCA, PRS

Growing up in Louisiana with addiction running rampant on both sides of my family. A life away from drugs and alcohol seemed impossible for someone like me. I remember what it was like sitting across from someone thinking there is no way they could ever understand what I was going through.

Sharing my experience offers a credibility and a certain type of trust with clients that only someone who has walked down this road can illustrate. To immerse myself further into the field of addiction, I am currently studying at Cincinnati State for Human and Social Services.  I hope I never forget where I came from, if I can do it, so can you!

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Thomas Hunter LSW

Hello my name is Thomas Hunter. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a licensed social worker.In my scope of practice I have worked in the areas of mental health and recovery for thirty years. The clients I have worked with in my career have ranged in age from seven to seventy.

I strive each day to serve my purpose of helping those in need and I believe I do so by utilizing all of my experiences to accomplish my goal of supporting those who desire to establish their sobriety and maintain it in their recovery. Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.

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Mary D.Porter,LICDC

 My name is Mary D. Porter. I received my Masters of Social Work in 2008 from The University of Cincinnati. I received My Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor Licensure in 2001. I retired from The Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center on April 14, 2014. Currently, I am the Associate Clinical Director for The Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers in Cincinnati.. Due to the fourth wave of the Opioid Epidemic in 2019,  I decided to enter back into the workforce to assist the addicted population.

The overdoses were astounding and I wanted to help.  I consider myself  to be an advocate for the addicted population. My compassion, resilience, empathy, wisdom, knowledge, experience and  love I have for this forgotten population goes beyond words. I consider what I do for the addicted population as a calling versus a “career,” because I too was once an “addict and alcoholic.” Today I am 45.5 years alcohol and substance free.

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Ben Lemmon LCDC III

Hello, my name is Ben Lemmon, and I’m the Vice President and Clinical Director at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers. I’ve been working in the addiction and mental health field since 2013 and decided to enter the field after overcoming my own challenges with addiction.

When I first meet a client, I always explain to them that the reason we are meeting is because they are not capable of obtaining or maintaining sobriety, and my goal is to create a person that can maintain sobriety. I believe a person’s personality is made up of their thoughts, feelings and actions and my job is to help clients identify the thoughts, feelings and actions that have them disconnected from recovery and provide them with the tools to live a healthy and happy life. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn