The correlation between stress, addiction, and susceptibility to relapse has been well noted and accepted throughout the scientific community. Stress interacts with multiple psychological and social factors at different levels on a daily basis, impacting brain chemistry and directly affecting behavior and the choices we make. Knowing this gives us greater insight into how we can control our stress to aid in the recovery process. Since we know that the role of stress on our behavior, specifically drug-seeking behavior, is important, stress management techniques have become a pivotal part of the recovery process. While great strides have been made in the understanding of how stress works and its negative effects on addiction, we are still lacking a fundamental description of stress that takes into account the full range of experiences that are considered stressful. Having a better understanding of stress and how it varies from person to person on a neurochemical level can create even better stress management techniques.

Stress is widely considered a major contributor to the initial use and continuation of drug use and relapse. Luckily, advancements in our understanding of stress and its effects on recovery has informed really effective elements of addiction treatment that are still in use today. These stress management techniques have helped save countless lives and helped people to successfully refrain from drug use and falling back into bad habits. For example, we know that strictly managing time during the first 90 days of treatment is critical for coping with the inevitable stress associated with beginning treatment and that focusing only on activities essential to recovery helps people avoid feeling overwhelmed. We know that giving people starting out in recovery too many tasks and responsibilities that may not be accomplished can lead to disappointment, so we take care to manage and monitor responses to stress early on.

Additionally, research shows that keeping stress bottled up increases its harmfulness and can lead to even worse or disproportionate responses to stress in the future. Knowing this has shown us just how important having an outlet for stress is, and addiction treatment has responded through efforts to minimize the bottling of stress such as counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, physical exercise, and training to identify stressors before they affect behavior adversely. These cornerstones of addiction treatment were made possible through our understanding of stress and its effects on behavior, and have taught so many to deal with stress in healthy, rather than harmful, ways.

Further research into the neurochemical systems that regulate stress will uncover even better possibilities for addiction treatment and prevention of drug use and addiction. Ultimately, stress is a natural and essential biological function that cannot and should not be eliminated from our everyday functioning. Stress helps us identify situations we should get ourselves out of and acts as a motivator to accomplish things in our everyday lives. The goal of further research into stress isn’t to eliminate it, it’s to come to a better scientific understanding of the stress of individuals in order to manage and use it to our advantage.

Professional stress management training can be improved. Understanding how stress pathways can be intentionally managed and regulated- counteracting the negative side effects of stress and streamlining it to our advantage, needs to be the focus. Where research needs to improve is in categorizing different types of stress. We need a comprehensive understanding of when acute stress becomes chronic stress; definitions of what constitute stress are still murky and can vary from person to person much like definitions and understanding of concepts like personality and intelligence. If we become able to identify unique neurochemical profiles of the stress of the individual, there will be better science behind addiction treatment. We know that taking a broad and homogenous approach to addiction treatment is not the most effective option. The further individualized treatment can become, the better the chances of treatment being effective and long-lasting.

If you or someone you know is in need of help because of drug and/or alcohol abuse or addiction, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Baltimore, Maryland, Washington, DC and Virginia area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please call us at (888) 491-8447 or email our team at For more information on all of our drug addiction and alcohol addiction services and recovery resources, please visit our web site at

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