woman wondering about stress vs anxiety as triggers for addiction

Stress vs. Anxiety as Triggers for Addiction: Which Is Worse?

There’s a lot to be said about stress vs. anxiety as triggers for addiction. Both are significant drivers of substance abuse, but which is worse? It’s a tricky question, but most addiction treatment specialists and studies confirm that anxiety is typically the more potent catalyst for drug or alcohol problems.

What’s the difference between stress and anxiety, and how does each impact the development of addictive behaviors? To learn more about stress, anxiety, and addiction triggers, call Promises Behavioral Health at 844.875.5609 to speak with someone from our experienced and knowledgeable staff about our anxiety treatment center and our addiction treatment program.

Stress vs. Anxiety as Triggers for Addiction

Stress is often mistakenly used as a catch-all term to describe trauma or anxiety disorders. Although these issues share many of the same physical symptoms, they have different causes and effects. Generally defined as tension or mental and emotional strain resulting from environmental or societal pressure or troubling or demanding circumstances, stress can cause physical and emotional problems and sometimes drive a person to use drugs or alcohol to cope.

Anxiety and Addiction Triggers

The temporary stress resulting from external pressures like work and other commitments differs from struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This anxiety disorder can develop after a person experiences a physically or psychologically traumatizing event.

PTSD and Anxiety

People struggling with PTSD and other anxiety disorders experience apprehension or excessive worry about impending events that interfere with daily activities like work and relationship commitments. Their fears often stem from an internal perception of danger without genuine cause. Studies show that those exposed to trauma at a young age sustain changes in their brain receptors that regulate stress and emotion, leading to an increased risk for anxiety disorders later in life.

Examples of early trauma include chronic exposure to pain or hunger, serious illness, household violence, neglect or abuse, parental divorce, or the death of a loved one. Early trauma can also increase the lifetime risk for heart disease, cancer, and socioeconomic problems. These life challenges can add to a person’s emotional and physical burden, causing further anxiety. About 20% struggling with anxiety or mood disorders also have a substance use disorder.

Medication Issues

Since some medications increase or cause anxiety symptoms, a person with an underlying anxiety disorder attempting to self-treat their symptoms may unknowingly be making things worse. Some medications taken for other health issues can also cause or exacerbate symptoms of anxiety, such as:

  • Asthma medication
  • Cold remedies
  • Decongestants
  • Thyroid medication

By the time someone struggling with anxiety and addiction triggers chooses to seek professional help, the addiction has often developed. This progression is due to a long history of “self-medicating” with drugs or alcohol to manage anxiety, which has often not been medically diagnosed or treated.

Stress and Addiction Triggers

Studies found that clinical anxiety is more strongly associated with the urge to drink alcohol than self-perceived stress among heavy drinkers, at the very least. Some researchers confirm that acute psychological stressors did not increase the potency of an alcohol cue. But although tests showed that stress leads to a general or moderate increase in alcohol cravings, these researchers concluded that no single type of stressor had an acute effect on alcohol cravings.

While anxiety appears to pose a greater risk than time-limited external stressors, both stress and anxiety can significantly threaten a person’s mental and physical health. Stress can affect substance abuse in several ways. It can:

  • Directly increase the risk of relapse in people struggling with addiction
  • Interfere with a person’s ability to stick to their addiction treatment plan
  • Contribute to the development of new addictions
  • Negatively impact a person’s mental health, which can worsen stress and anxiety symptoms
  • Make it more challenging to manage stress and anxiety in healthy ways

Both stress and anxiety can be addressed through therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.

Learn More About Anxiety Treatment and Rehab at Promises Behavioral Health

If you’re struggling with anxiety, stress, and addiction triggers, consider contacting Promises Behavioral Health. Our team of expert clinicians will develop a personalized treatment plan that meets your unique needs. Call 844.875.5609 today to learn more about our evidence-based approach to treating behavioral and mental health.

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