Preventing Relapse through Stress Management

Many aspects of a person's life improve when they're in recovery, but the stresses of everyday life don't go away when they leave the treatment center. Stress is a normal and inevitable part of life, and it's important to learn how to deal with tension and worry in healthy ways through stress management.

Studies have shown that stress doesn't just play a major role in active cases of substance abuse, but it can also trigger relapse. Developing a strong set of stress-management techniques and coping skills can help recovering individuals learn how to handle stressful situations and stay on track.

Stress and Relapse

Stress is a common trigger for all kinds of addictions. The more stress a person experiences, the more likely that they'll try to escape it through drugs, alcohol or other addictive substances or activities. A report by the National Institute of Drug Abuse indicates that stress is the leading cause of relapse among individuals recovering from drug addiction.

When a person experiences stress, the body responds in a number of ways. Hormones are released, veins constrict and increased amounts of blood are sent to the major muscle groups. These responses are valuable in classic "fight or flight" situations, but chronic stress can take a major toll on the body. Some research suggests that the brains of substance abusers are more sensitive to the effects of stress, which may increase the risk that they'll turn back to drugs as a coping mechanism.

The Importance of Stress Management

Although it's impossible to avoid stress completely, recovering individuals can take steps to manage daily stressors so that they don't increase the risk of relapse.

A few proven stress-management strategies include:

  • Regular exercise
  • Adequate sleep
  • Journaling
  • Yoga and meditation
  • Talking to a family member, trusted friend or sponsor

These tips and techniques can help lower stress levels and create a sense of balance. Some stressors may be too much to handle alone, however. Working with a mental health professional can help people get a handle on stress before it interferes with their recovery.

Choosing the Right Approach

It's important to remember that everyone experiences stress differently. A situation that doesn't bother one person at all might be extremely stressful to someone else. Similarly, there's no single set of stress-management techniques that work for everyone. It may take a bit of trial and error to figure out which strategies work best for you or your loved one.

Having a strong support network is a key component of relapse prevention and stress management. Many treatment centers work with the families of people dealing with addiction to help them understand the challenges of recovery and learn how they can support their loved one in the future.

Stress is a significant factor that can contribute to relapse for those in recovery. Stress is unavoidable, but it doesn't have to derail recovery efforts. Being aware of the signs of stress and learning how to handle stressful situations can help reduce the risk of relapse. If you're looking at recovery programs for someone you love, choose one that focuses on coping skills to help patients manage stress and avoid relapse.

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