The Role of Stress in Relapse

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Stress can be hugely problematic for addicts and alcoholics in recovery. Acute stressors and ongoing high levels of stress can make it more difficult for the person trying to overcome addiction to stay focused on sobriety and avoid relapse.

In a comprehensive drug addiction treatment program, a great amount of attention is paid to helping addicts lower their overall stress levels and learn ways to manage stressful situations.

The more control that one has over their emotions, the more likely it is that they will also avoid feeling triggered to drink or get high or indulge in that impulse when a stressful issue arises.

Stress as a Trigger

Stress itself is a highly inflammatory emotion. In fact, any emotion that is overwhelming – grief, anger, frustration, sadness, etc. – can be a trigger for someone in recovery. High levels of stress can make the person who has always turned to alcohol or drugs for relief from uncomfortable emotions more likely to be unable to resist relapse.

While recovery leads to a better life, it’s not easy to completely overhaul one’s life, changing the entire focus and function of day-to-day experience. There is often some trepidation that comes with learning how to handle relationships, face challenges, find and maintain employment, and become completely independent without the crutch of substance abuse, and that fear usually translates into high levels of overall stress. When an individual stressor arises – a job interview, a confrontation with a loved one or a stranger, an unexpected bill or health problem, etc. – many feel like they are unable to cope without a drink or getting high.

Lowering Overall Stress to Fight Relapse

One of the first steps to stopping stress from being a controlling factor in recovery is to take steps daily to lower one’s overall stress levels. If a person is already in high stress mode when an acute stressor occurs, they may be less able to handle it without relapse, but if they are calm then a surprise stressful event will be manageable rather than overwhelming.
Some ways to do this include:

  • Exiting stressful relationships. Choosing to live and work with people who, by and large, do not cause stress can be helpful. This can mean breaking off friendships or a romantic relationship that is dysfunctional, or putting time and space between oneself and stressful relatives as much as possible.
  • Creating positive relationships. Similarly, filling one’s life with positive people and healthy relationships can improve every other aspect of life, including physical and mental health.
  • Learning how to communicate successfully. Every day, people interact with each other. Learning how to communicate one’s needs in a healthy manner when driving, talking to a stranger on the bus, dealing with a bank teller, walking in a crowded place, or buying coffee can decrease the little irritating stressors that can easily be blown out of proportion otherwise
  • Improving physical wellness. Physical discomfort, illness or chronic pain can all contribute to a person’s inability to avoid relapse. Getting good sleep, gentle exercise, and eating healthfully can all help the person in recovery to feel more balanced overall.
  • Improving mental wellness. In the same way, these activities can improve mental health. However, if a mental health disorder is an issue, professional intervention is encouraged in order to learn how to manage symptoms effectively.

Relapse prevention starts with effective and comprehensive care at a professional drug rehabilitation center. Contact us at The Canyon now and find out how we can help you or your loved one overcome drug and alcohol dependence.

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