Stress In Addiction Recovery

All of us have experienced stress in one form or another in our lifetime, especially those who are in addiction recovery. Chances are that at this exact moment while you read this, you are experiencing some level of stress related to the current state of your own life. There is a wide spectrum of intensity related to stress, and each individual is equipped differently to cope with it. On one end of the scale you may have the stress related to arriving at an appointment on time, and on the other, spotting a shark while you are swimming in the ocean.
Some level of stress is necessary and beneficial to the human body. The physiological response to stress can help an individual escape from danger and keep them safe. The problem with stress is when in starts to occur more frequently and in some cases turns into a chronic problem. Furthermore, for recovering addicts that have not learned the skills to deal with stress, it can be a contributing factor for returning to drugs and alcohol.

Impact On The Body

When we are under stress, there is an impact on many of the body’s systems. Under stressful conditions, the liver releases extra blood sugar in order to provide additional energy. If this continues for longer periods of time, the body may not be equipped to deal with the surge of glucose and it may contribute to a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In addition, this extra energy may be stored as fat and can have an impact on weight gain.
Stress has a wide reach and can influence the body’s immune system. Individuals that are under chronic stress may be at a higher risk of contracting viruses including the flu or cold. In addition to contracting illnesses, those who experience stress for prolonged periods of time may take longer to recover from them as well.
When the body is experiencing stress, it is common for muscles to contract and become tense. When a person is experiencing chronic stress, it is possible that the tightness of muscles may cause body aches, back pain, and headaches. Feeling generally sore and uncomfortable may be a contributing factor for individuals to stop being active and my influence a decision to seek out pain medication.
Long-term effects of chronic stress on the central nervous system include depression, anxiety, and irritability. Insomnia is common and many people that suffer from chronic stress may become more withdrawn and isolated. This is particularly alarming to individuals in addiction recovery.

Coping With Stress

While the effects of chronic stress can be debilitating to anyone, they are especially dangerous for the recovering addict and alcoholic. For those in recovery, any of the consequences of chronic stress listed above could be a contributing factor in pushing them toward a relapse. There are numerous ways to deal with stress, and while there is no correct way for everyone, it is important that each individual find a healthy solution that works for them.
Exercise is an excellent outlet for those who are experiencing any type of stress. This can be anything from hitting the gym to just a simple jog around the block. No matter what physical activity is chosen, it can help the brain to release some of the same chemicals that were altered during active addiction and is a great “safety valve” to reduce stress.
Meditation can be a wonderful way to help reduce some of the effects of stress on the body. This can look different for everybody and may be sitting quietly, concentrating on breathing, or a moving meditation like walking.
Additionally, music can have an enormous impact on our mood and stress levels. Finding some music that has a calming effect on you can be an easy and inexpensive way to help deal with both acute and chronic stress.
The most important thing is that you find what works best for your individual and personal situation. For most of us in recovery, drugs and alcohol were the only things we used to deal with stress. As you start down the road to you new life in sobriety, it is important that you develop new and healthy ways to deal with life and the emotions that come with it. Make your addiction recovery individual and personal.
Stress in Addiction Recovery

Dr. David Wiss became a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) in 2013 and founded Nutrition in Recovery, a group practice of RDNs specializing in treating eating and substance use disorders. In 2017, David received the “Excellence in Practice” award at the National Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo. The California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics awarded him the “Emerging Dietetic Leader Award” in 2020. He earned his Ph.D. from UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health in the Community Health Sciences department (with a minor in Health Psychology) by investigating the links between adverse childhood experiences and various mental health outcomes among socially disadvantaged men. His treatment philosophy is based on a biopsychosocial model which incorporates an understanding of biological mechanisms, psychological underpinnings, and contextual factors that integrate the social determinants of health. Wise Mind Nutrition is an app-based interactive treatment program available for download now -

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