The Other Dark Cloud Part 2

In my previous column, I wrote about the connection between stress and substance addiction. But going through the process of drug addiction treatment won’t magically resolve the myriad issues that come with addiction, including ongoing stress.

It is critical to manage stress throughout the recovery process, especially since stress is a leading cause of relapse in substance abuse patients, according to The National Institute on Drug Abuse [LINK: ].

Stress is a physical force that can wreak havoc on the body, causing it to produce various chemicals. These chemicals can interfere with the recovery process of recalibrating the hormones and neural receptors for those chemicals in order to live a sober, substance-free life. And research repeatedly shows that substance abuse recovery patients have a hypersensitivity to stress, making them even more vulnerable when dealing with stressful situations during the recovery process, thereby leading the patient to relapse.

When in recovery, addiction recovery patients may experience stress because of jumping back into a job after having time off. Sometimes, there is embarrassment if employers or coworkers know the reason for the absence from work, and this can lead to addiction recovery patients experiencing shame, which can lead to additional stress. Jumping back into a stressful job that was the initial cause of the drug, alcohol, or substance abuse may further trigger a relapse.

During substance abuse recovery, relationships with family and friends can also be strained. There can be outstanding conflicts that are unresolved that may or may not be linked with the substance abuse. There could also be ongoing physical pain, commonly found in patients who have abused prescription painkillers or have self-medicated with other substances.

Stress triggers many different kinds of addictions, and sometimes, one addiction can be replaced with another. When stress gets heaped on, addiction recovery patients are more likely to seek a release (or escape), oftentimes from substance abuse, including drugs, prescription medication, or alcohol, but sometimes the rechanneled addiction can manifest into risky sexual behavior, gambling addiction, food addiction, or heavy smoking.

The key aspect is that living a healthy and sober life means learning to cope with stress and tension in new ways.

First, it is critical to be able to detect stress and the physical manifestations of stress early on. The body can indicate increased stress levels with dry mouth, fatigue, upset stomach, aches and pain, especially of the head, neck and back. Other symptoms of elevated stress putting addiction recovery patients at risk of relapse can include rapid heartbeat or chest pains, jitters, difficulty sleeping (or staying asleep), an inability to concentrate, or even memory lapses. Addiction recovery patients should also watch for an increased development of colds, a loss of appetite, or the reverse, overeating. Recovery stress can also manifest as irritability or having a short temper fuse, and there is often overall anxiety that is difficult to shake.

If any of these symptoms present, it is time to take positive steps toward stress management. Critical to this is ongoing work with a therapist or other mental health professional. Also, key lifestyle changes may be required for addiction recovery patients to remove themselves from some of their most stressful triggers.

To help avoid relapse, addiction recovery patients should work on managing time. The first 90 days of recovery is the time in which most patients experience relapse. During that time, it is critical not to take on too many projects, duties, or assignments, either personally or professionally. Patients should prioritize what is essential and learn to set aside the lesser obligations. However, counseling or other tasks related to recovery should not be put off. Also, patients should find a person they can go to when stress or frustrations increase, whether it be a sponsor, counselor, or family member or friend. Trying to suppress emotions and stress, especially over setbacks, will only compound the stress. Patients also have the option of journaling if they don’t feel comfortable sharing with a non-professional between counseling sessions.

Another key is to know what the stress triggers are likely to be and to take preventative action. It might be to set an earlier alarm, leaving more time in the day if there are many tasks slated. Addiction recovery patients also should not overcommit, nor should they put themselves in positions that could lead to confrontation.

Addiction recovery patients should not forget the value of getting enough sleep. Seven to eight hours of sleep helps the body restore itself and calms the mind, making it easier to manage emotions and stress.

Finally, addiction recovery patients should seek out stress-reducing activities when possible. This can be exercising, getting out in nature, reading, cooking, or playing music. It can include taking a yoga class (or watching a video at home). Focus on deep breaths, and add in meditation to accompany a regular routine. Increasing mindfulness activities can increase awareness in the body’s reactions to situations and help the addiction recovery patients train themselves to not have such strong reactions to the stressful triggers.

Drug addiction treatment centers can help tackle both the substance addiction and the underlying stress that led to the substance addiction. If you are in La Jolla or the surrounding areas and want more information on addiction or treatment at our outpatient program at La Jolla Addiction Healing Center, visit us at, or contact our office at 858-454-4357 (HELP).