Is Stress a Predictor of Relapse?

Stress seems to be at an all-time high these days, with many people complaining that they just don’t have enough time to get all the things done that they need to. Some work stressful jobs or have heavy loads in school. Others have families to tend to, financial struggles, health issues, and so on. The reality is that anxiety and stress are hindering the lives of many people across the country.

High amounts of stress can certainly leave to people picking up a drink because they feel as if drinking helps them relax. Or they may have so much anxiety that they take anti-anxiety medication. These things can lead to them becoming addicted, and addiction is running rampant in many areas of the country.

What about those that are in recovery? Do you think their stress levels are higher than those that aren’t?

It’s not uncommon for alcoholics or addicts to relapse while they travel the road of recovery. On one hand, they are trying very hard and committed to a life abstaining from addiction, but on the other hand, when stressful circumstances come, sometimes they cannot resist the urge to drink or use.  They don’t want to relapse, but they’ve become accustomed to coping with life’s challenges by drinking or drugging.

Is stress a predictor of relapse?

We all know that stressful times will come in life. Whether it’s via the job, spouse, finances, dating, children, health, or friends, stress occurs. Does this mean that lasting sobriety will be very challenging? When stress comes, will a recovering addict relapse?

The answer is that it depends. Some people may relapse when they hit a stressful event and others may not, but before we get into reasons for such, let’s take a look at how stress affects the body. When you encounter stress in your life, whether it’s the pain of a breakup or a new job, your body goes through physical changes. Your heart begins to beat faster, your breathing rate increases, your muscles tense up, and your body may go into fight or flight mode.  Your mind is also affected, as your thoughts may become negative, causing your emotions to take a dive. You may feel scared, angry, depressed, or hopeless.

All of these can certainly be triggers to pick up a drink or take a drug in an effort to calm your nerves and stop feeling the pain associated with the stress. This is what a recovering addict used to do, so when they’re on the road of recovery and hit a brick wall of stress, their brains automatically trigger memories of how they used to deal with such stress with alcohol or drugs.

Will you relapse when tough times come?

If you’re a recovering addict, you can probably relate to feeling intense urges to drink or use your drug of choice when you hit stress or tough times in life. In fact, sometimes it’s the first thing you think of. Take Tommy, for instance. He’s been in recovery for a little under a year. He used to be a heavy drinker, and it took him years before he accepted the fact that he was an alcoholic and could not stop drinking on his own. When he hit his rock bottom, Tommy reached out for help via an alcohol rehab.

He went through detox and a 30-day inpatient rehab program. He learned a lot about the disease of alcoholism and learned how he could effectively cope with life’s problems without having to drink.

But then Tommy encountered a very stressful situation in life. Despite his recovery efforts and sobriety, his relationship did not work out, and he had to endure a heartbreaking break-up. This shook him to the core.

This added stress to his life he didn’t feel like he could handle it on his own. He started drinking in order to ease the pain, hoping that he would be able to stop within a week or two. However, he couldn’t and he’s been drinking heavily ever since then, once again trapped in a self-imposed prison suffering in pain.

Tommy didn’t have a solid relapse prevention plan in place before his break-up. He knew how to get through the every-day cravings or temptations, but he wasn’t sure how to cope when life threw large stresses or obstacles his way.

The reality is that a solid relapse prevention plan is helpful for a recovering addict or alcoholic to learn how to overcome such urges when stress hits the fan.

Recovering addict overcoming urges and avoiding relapse

Since we know that stress will occur in life, learning stress reduction techniques and healthy coping skills will benefit you greatly.  This way you won’t automatically reach for a drink or drug when you’re stressed out.  You’ll have a handful of tools to use to manage and decrease your stress levels. Overcoming the urges and avoiding relapse will help a recovering addict to enjoy the recovery road and experience less stress along the way.

Here are some great ways to reduce and cope with stress:

  • Identify triggers. Take note of what triggers you to really want to drink or drug. If you’ve relapsed before, Holistic Rehab Centerwhat were the factors associated with such?  Did you get into an argument with your partner?  Get in trouble at work?  Did you visit an old party friend? Once you become aware of what your triggers are, you can then do the best you can to avoid such situation or if you do encounter them, have adequate coping skills to get through them without using. If you’re having a tough time identifying your triggers, you may need to reach out for some help via a counselor or a 12-step group such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Sometimes it’s tough to know what your own triggers are, but others may be helpful in helping you gain some insight. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help.
  • Learn stress reduction skills. When you carry stress over a long period of time, your mind and body will certainly be affected. Your muscles tense up. Your anxiety levels may increase significantly. You may begin to feel fatigued. To help prevent relapse and to optimize your health, learn several stress reduction techniques that will help you decrease your levels of stress.  Helpful techniques include deep breathing, meditation, yoga, regular exercise, and creative visualization. Incorporate these techniques into your life regularly and you’ll be less likely to develop chronic stress and avoid relapse.
  • Change what you can and accept what you cannot. The Serenity Prayer is a simple prayer that put into action can certainly reduce stress for the recovering addict.  If you can accept those things you cannot change, you’ll feel much more peace. At the same time, if you change the things you can change, you’ll feel more accomplished and fulfilled.  Keep this in mind as you walk the road of recovery. The Serenity Prayer goes like this:

God, grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference


Even if you’re not into prayer, the serenity prayer can be of help to you. It can remind you that you can change some things in your life, and there are some things that you can’t change. It will serve you well to learn the difference.

As a recovering addict or alcoholic, you don’t have to relapse due to stress.  When you’re proactive and learn about stress and how to contend with it, you’ll be less likely to relapse and more likely to live a life full of peace, freedom, and joy.

That’s not to say that life will always be easy breezy because most likely it won’t be. The life journey does consist of various challenges coming our way, but those challenges aren’t licenses for us to self-medicate by drinking or drugging. Challenges offer the recovering addict or alcoholic the opportunity to learn valuable lessons about life, ourselves, others, and perhaps even a higher power. Decide now that you will be the kind of person that will face challenges head-on sober. That you’ll be the kind of person that believes that you can learn from each trial that comes your way.

What happens if you do relapse?

If you’re a recovering addict and you do happen to relapse, it’s not the end of the world, and you can decide to get right back up and start your recovery again. You can learn from your relapses, and change your treatment plan or relapse prevention plan based on what you’ve learned. Oftentimes relapse is a part of recovery, especially early recovery.

Too many people relapse and then give themselves permission to go off the deep end, drinking heavily or using drugs heavily. Decide now that if you do relapse, that you’re not going to do that, but rather, you’re going to stand back up, dust yourself off, and get back on the path to recovery. If you need to reach out for help, feel free to do so. In fact, many people need to reach out for help when it comes to getting free from addiction. For the recovering addict, there’s absolutely no shame in that.

We are here to help you find the right treatment path for you. That could be attending an inpatient or outpatient alcohol or drug rehab program, or it may be attending 12-step meetings in your community. Everyone’s recovery path will look different, and it’s up to you what yours will look like. Take your first step today toward recovery and reach out for some help. We are glad to assist you, as you do not have to tackle this alone.