Whether you use alcohol or drugs when stressed, seemingly “treating” your addiction, it may not be clear that this only exasperates the problem. Stress and Addiction are explicitly linked. In this article, we discuss how addiction can actually cause even more stress, and a few tools we can employ to reduce it. There are many reasons for this affecting every area of our lives: physical, social, and mental. For many, the only way to reduce stress is to cease our drug of choice at once.
“You’d Use Too if You Had My Problems”
How many addicts and alcoholics have muttered something similar to this? At first, many of us enjoy our drinking, smoking, snorting, or even injecting our favorite substance. It was all in good fun at first; a rite of passage if you will. However, at some point, that point of view changed. Addiction is now the3 SOLUTION to our problems.
I’ve certainly been there. I felt as if alcohol helped me deal with my problems. After a bad day, a drink sounded divine. (My standards for a bad day decreased to the point where they were all bad eventually). Although I was too blind to see it, every day was simply worse than the last BECAUSE of my drinking.
I put all thoughts out of my head that pointed to the fact I can’t have a couple to “relax.” I’d certainly end up drunk. My addiction had tricked me into thinking that alcohol was my solution instead of my chief problem.
Doesn’t Drinking and Drugging Reduce Stress?
In a word, yes. In fact, if you had a big enough supply of alcohol, heroin, cocaine, etc, you would likely be mostly stress free. Right up to the point your heart stop beating.
Alcohol and drugs reliably reduce stress temporarily when taken in small amounts. But c’mon, this site is all about sobriety; you wouldn’t be here if you were capable of drinking two beers, doing one line, smoking one joint, etc. Using alcohol as an example, in order to reduce stress in the mind temporarily, we must get drunk. The worst part is that even in small amounts, only some people can turn to alcohol for stress reduction.
The reduction of stress only occurs in the mind, however; the rest of the body is stressed because it must now repair itself. Let’s now take a look at withdrawal symptoms, which can be extremely stressful and sometimes lethal.
You May Feel You “Need” It
Quite frankly, your body has become so accustomed to receiving your drug of choice, you may be experiencing painful withdrawals. In cases such as this, taking a drink or using a drug will appear to reduce your stress. Once again, this is completely temporary. In some cases, such as the most severe alcohol withdrawals, you may need to take a drink to avoid death.
This would be the case if you were detoxing at home. If you have gotten to the point where you may die without a drink, please immediately head to an emergency room.
In other instances, continuing to use hard drugs such as heroin can certainly alleviate stress if you are experiencing withdrawals. Of course, this is not a reason to continue using. The cumulative effects of continuing to use will only bring more stress into the addict’s life. Let’s take a look at these effects.
Physiological Stress Brought on by Addiction
It should be a no brainer that doing too much of anything can have negative effects. In the case of alcohol and drugs, any amount has negative consequences. I’m sure you have read that a couple glasses of wine can benefit your heart, reduce stress or some other such nonsense. This is merely propaganda by the alcohol industry. Beginning with alcohol, all drugs have negative consequences on our bodies.
Physical Stress – Alcohol
When people are sick, the number one thought that dominates their life is feeling better. We often take physical health for granted until we feel sick. Alcohol has been shown to impair the immune system, especially for those who drink to the point of drunkenness. As an example, I used to develop “colds” such as coughing, runny nose, etc. After a week of sobriety, these problems magically disappeared.
If we feel ill, it causes a great deal of stress. Vomiting and diarrhea never correspond to feelings of euphoria or relaxation. Having been diagnosed with pancreatitis, I know firsthand that addiction can produce major physical stressors. The #1 cause of this affliction is alcoholism. Not only do you suffer from poor digestion, vomiting is commonplace.
When we do not feel like our vibrant selves, we will experience stress that radiates through every area of our lives. Going over every single negative effect of alcohol abuse on the body would require a dissertation, so I will simply list a few:
- Our brains function poorly. We feel foggy all the time and have difficulty concentrating.
- Dehydration produces a host of problems such as poor skin appearance, fatigue, dizziness, and confusion. There is a reason we are extremely thirsty in the morning after a binge.
- The heart becomes strained, resulting in high blood pressure, irregular heart beat, and even stroke.
- Various cancers develop and the liver can fail. If we drink more than the liver can process, a vast array of problems result.
Heroine – Physical Effects
It should be clear at this point that all drugs, liquid or not, cause physical stress. Heroine is not exempt. In fact, it is one of the most destructive drugs around. People overdose frequently, for example. They are often brought back to life (I’ve personally heard many accounts of this). Long term effects of this drug include.
- A rewiring of the brain’s chemistry, which can actually cause personality changes.
- Collapsed veins.
- Cold sweats, especially in withdrawals.
- Teeth problems.
- A complete lack of care for oneself, which only causes additional problems.
These are but a few of the long list heroin addiction sufferers experience.
Every drug comes with its own specific physical problems. However, one thing remains constant. All drugs cause irreparable harm to the affected individual. Meth, Cocaine, Marijuana (although the least dangerous) all cause physical problems that oftentimes cannot be reversed.
Any physical stress these substances cause also causes the victim mental suffering. For those that have a conscience, feelings of guilt, shame, and remorse may dominate the addict’s life.
Social Stress Caused by Addiction
For those that have used substances for any length of time are aware that relationships, employment, and lifestyle are affected by addiction. The inability to deal with stress often leads to using more. Using substances as a stress reducer compounds the problem. I once read a wall a plaque bearing the inscription: “There is nothing so bad that a drink can’t make worse.”
This certainly stuck with me. The saying is not referring to physical problems already discussed. It was referring to the extinction of everything worthwhile in the drinker’s life as they continue drinking. Alcoholics drink because they like the effect alcohol has on them. They HATE the consequences of their drinking.
As a blackout drinker, I remember almost none of my drinking escapades. An alcoholic blackout is amnesia for the events of any part of a drinking episode without loss of consciousness. It is characterized by memory impairment during intoxication in the relative absence of other skill deficits. Comedian John Mulaney puts it this way: “Blacking out is when you drink so much that your brain goes to sleep, but your body gets all eye of the tiger and soldiers on.”
While I find this hilarious, the reality is the opposite. The stress involved with going through your life the next day having no idea what you did the night before is excruciating. I would avoid people I knew to be present during my blackouts. I did not want to hear stories about myself.
Blackouts are only one symptom. At some point, it will probably we advisable to not return to work the next day after a night drugging or drinking. Even when you can make it to work, you will look like crap and people know there is something wrong. We actually think we are fooling people. It is amazing that substance abusers are the last ones to see the problem.
People stop inviting you to things when you become a drug addict or alcoholic. It isn’t that they hate the real you; they hate the person you have become in the throes of your addiction. Frankly, my brother has called me one of the best people he knows… when sober. He went on to tell me that I might be the worse person in the world during active drinking. That is large looming contradiction.
Drug addicts and alcoholics are notorious for irresponsibility brought on by their addiction. It isn’t til we put the drink or drug down that we revert to our true selves. Most operate fairly normally when we sober up. We can hold jobs, have great relationships with friends and family, live a healthy lifestyle, and take care of financial obligations.
Mental Stress Caused by Addiction
Quite frankly, drinking and drugging impairs our mental functioning a great deal. If you have ever used for a while, quit, and then let some time pass, you are aware that you mental faculties improve dramatically. After quitting this last time, it took me almost a week to be able to put thoughts together coherently.
When using, we often try to determine the best course of action, and to our dismay, we have trouble making decisions. If you are a true alcoholic/addict, then the only thoughts you should be pursuing is how to get help. I know I’ve had trouble with this because I wanted to juggle the good job, relationship, or whatever. My problems piled up on me until they were nearly impossible to solve.
Frankly, those things should have been my least concern. I was so mentally foggy that I shouldn’t have been making work decisions that affected other people. I shouldn’t have been trying to repair a relationship when in my heart of hearts I knew I would do more terrible things. The stress that comes with trying to solve problems while using is horrific.
I would mull over my options for what I was going to do financially, who I was going to trouble for help, etc. The problem is drinking was causing my financial problems. Additionally, as time went by, I had fewer people in my life that would be willing to help me – another direct correlation to my addiction.
The inability to operate at my highest level was very stressful. For such a long time, I’ve been told how good I am at nearly everything I do. I have even rationalized that I had to drink in order to shine less bright. What an ego, huh? I’d tell myself that people didn’t want to see me sober because I’d be the best at everything. Since then, I’ve found that I’m not, but I am much happier with my true self.
Real Solutions to Stress
This article wouldn’t be very helpful if I didn’t provide a few ways for alcoholics or addicts to help reduce stress.
If you are really down-and-out, it is commonplace to enter a rehab facility. Even if you do not have insurance, many states are willing to foot some or all of the bill. Addiction costs the federal and state government billions of dollars. As a result, most states are starting to wake up and help people with addictions.
Even if you are not able or willing to check into a regimented facility, it is important that you find people that have experienced the same types of things. You will typically find such people in alcoholics anonymous, narcotics anonymous, cocaine anonymous, or whatever anonymous types of meetings. Talking with people who haven’t experienced addiction is often useless. They can empathize, sure, but they will never understand.
It is important to note that many of us have underlying medical conditions that are left untreated. This can be part of the reason we feel the need to self medicate. Discuss options with you physician to see if other treatments are available for problems such as anxiety and depression.
In addition, there are many books available that are specifically written for addiction.
Complain a Bit
If something is upsetting you, it is important to a sympathetic ear. I may be suggesting this only because I never complained or voiced my displeasure about anything. Instead, I bottled it up. My only real solution as I saw it was to get drunk. At least then, I thought, I wouldn’t be thinking about whatever was upsetting me.
I’m serious. There are so many products out there that allow us to exercise in the comfort of our own homes. Personally, I like to mix it up and go play a game with actual people, but I often to in home workouts while watching TV. It lets me feel like I’m accomplishing something while I’m lounging around.
Exercise helps nearly everything. Whenever I’m not feeling like myself, it is generally because I have skipped one too many days exercising.
Let it Out
As I have already mentioned exercise, one of the best ways is doing kickboxing, hitting a punching bag, etc. Hitting something that won’t effect other is key. For example, at work I use a doll specifically designed to let out stress. After slamming it on the desk a few times, it always brings a smile to my face.
Prayer and Meditation
Even for those that are not religious, these two things have been shown to help addicts. It doesn’t matter who you are praying to, simply stating thoughts, examining decisions, or asking for help can have a profound effect. Meditation helps us clear our thoughts, so we can feel good about moving forward. Yoga is often a great way to combine exercise with meditation! There are many options out there, so give this one an honest shot.
Stress Can be Healthy
This article has demonstrated the negative correlation between stress and addiction. We have discussed the physical, mental, and social repercussions that result in additional stress in our addiction. I hope you follow some suggestions outlined here if you are still suffering. It is important to stay mindful of our disease so that it doesn’t creep back into our lives.
Please let me know the ways that you reduce stress in sobriety in the comments section. You may be able to help someone more than you know!
Please share this post if it has helped or will help others close to you.