Stress and Drug Addiction

Stress and Drug Addiction

Last week I wrote about the best drug rehabs in Florida, and how the best drug rehab centers in Florida and around the country are currently dealing with the epidemic of drug addiction. I always find it interesting to let people know what science has to say about the disease of addiction. Most people who have dealt with substance use disorders themselves, or with a family member, could probably guess that stress plays a role in drug addiction. Interestingly, we think of the stress that comes from the symptoms of addiction, the relapses, and the broken promises; all the problems caused by one person in a family struggling from this disease. We do not often think about the ways that stress can cause addiction or make addiction worse, even if that idea makes total sense to anyone who has been around an addict. Recently the journal “Physiology and Behavior” published an integrative study about stress and its role in substance use disorders. The findings are interesting, and I think this scientific approach to addiction can lead to more understanding of the disease of addiction generally. 

I also have some thoughts of my own on this topic. I have written about perceptions of addiction in the past. It is a topic that I would like to revisit very soon, and this study comments directly on the controversial idea that addiction is a disease. I say controversial because there is a lack of understanding about addiction in the general population. The first pages of the study summarize that in this way, 

“The high prevalence and burden to society of drug abuse and addiction is undisputed. However, its conceptualization as a brain disease is controversial.” 

I believe that statement is correct. Although people generally understand that addiction is becoming more prevalent and that its effects are far-reaching, some people still balk at the idea that addiction is a disease like any other. It is easier to understand the disease if we talk about addiction as a disease of the brain, specifically. The study looked at all the most influential research that has been done to connect substance use disorders to stress. Stress has many biological markers and effects around the body, but it is primarily a reaction that the brain is having to internal or external stressors. Although the language is very scientific, I felt that this section was the most telling,

“Stress is conceptualized as a major source of allostatic load, which results in progressive long-term changes in the brain, leading to a drug-prone state characterized by craving and increased risk of relapse.”

Stress is causing a state of being where people are more likely to have cravings and are at more risk of relapse in general. This is a very direct connection, and a good reason to avoid stress when in recovery. Last week I talked about Florida Springs Wellness and Recovery Center. It is one of the best drug rehabs in Florida, and it has incredible facilities near the beach in Panama City, Florida. Scientific studies, such as this one, seem to point to a benefit in seeking a relaxing setting when seeking treatment for substance use disorder. The study from the journal Physiology and Behavior also seeks to describe addiction as a disease that fits into a social context. People that are seeking treatment will notice an emphasis on people, places, and things. In recovery, we try to limit our exposure to the people, places, and things that were the setting for our addictive lifestyle. Usually, this is meant in the negative context, so we do not avoid our families after treatment, but instead, we avoid the people we used drugs with. Stress seems to be closely tied to addiction, and it seems to be that social context where stressors can become a problem. This research seems to enforce what the counselors at the best rehabilitation centers have known for years. 

By Tim Cannon



Risotto P, Contador I. The role of stress in drug addiction. An integrative review. Physiol Behav. 2019;202:62-68. DOI:10.1016/j.physbeh.2019.01.022