Stress and Addiction

With the cost of living crisis affecting nearly everyone in the UK, it’s becoming increasingly clear how deeply people are affected. The stress caused by it is evolving into something more alarming. According to 2022 data, more than 2.1 million people in the UK have said they’re drinking more alcohol than before and for 61% of them, the skyrocketing house prices are to blame.

What is stress?

Stress is the body’s response to any demand or challenge. When faced with a stressful situation, whether physical, psychological or emotional, the body reacts by releasing stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones prepare the body to face the challenge (‘fight’) or escape from it (‘flight’). This type of response instructs the body to increase and decrease certain functions.

For example, in response to a perceived threat, the brain may signal the body to increase heart rate in preparation for rapid movement. Concurrently, it might temporarily de-prioritise non-essential functions such as digestion and energy conservation for more critical responses to the stressful situation.

Is all stress bad?

Not all stress is bad, even though the word is often used negatively in day-to-day conversation. Stress can be categorised into two main types: eustress (positive stress) and distress (negative stress).


Eustress is the kind of stress that motivates you to complete tasks, helps you to focus your energy and is often short-term. It’s perceived as within our coping abilities and feels exciting. Eustress can improve performance, like when you’re competing in sports or facing a challenging but manageable task. It’s associated with feelings of fulfilment and achievement.


Distress, on the other hand, occurs when the stress is too much to handle, causing anxiety or concern. It can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic) and can lead to negative health effects. Unlike eustress, distress feels unpleasant and can decrease performance.

The impact of stress largely depends on the person’s perception of it. What might be considered a positive, motivating challenge to one person could be overwhelming to another. The key difference between eustress and distress is how the person perceives and reacts to the stressor. However, on the whole, most will view distress as a predominantly negative type of stress to experience.

What are the different types of distress?

Distress can be a highly personal experience, varying widely from person to person. What one person perceives as a challenging but manageable situation, another may experience as overwhelming and distressing. This subjective nature of distress means that virtually any situation could potentially be distressful, depending on individual perceptions, past experiences, resilience levels and coping mechanisms.

Despite this individual variability, distress can generally be categorised into several main types, reflecting different sources or triggers of distress:

Type of Distress Description
Psychological distress This type involves emotional suffering typically associated with stressors and demands that are difficult to cope with. It can form as anxiety, depression, irritability or other emotional states.
Physical distress Physical distress is related to the body’s response to injury, illness or other physical suffering. This can include acute pain or physical exhaustion.
Emotional distress Often overlapping with psychological distress, emotional distress specifically refers to feelings of sadness, anger, frustration or overwhelm that can be triggered by personal issues.
Social distress This type arises from difficulties in a person’s social life or environment, such as isolation or conflict in relationships.
Existential distress This form of distress is related to questions about a person’s existence or purpose. It can emerge from life crises, like facing death.
Financial distress Financial problems or general concerns about money can lead to significant stress, impacting a person’s mental and physical health.

What are the signs and symptoms of stress?

While many assume that stress symptoms involve feeling tired or slightly angry, stress can affect many aspects of a person’s life. It’s crucial to educate yourself about the signs and symptoms of stress in order to take action.

Physical stress symptoms
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep problems
  • Digestive issues
  • Changes in appetite
  • Heart palpitations
  • Increased susceptibility to illnesses
Emotional stress symptoms
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability or anger
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Mood swings
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty relaxing
Behavioural stress symptoms
  • Avoidance behaviours
  • Increased use of substances to cope
  • Changes in social behaviour
  • Nail biting, pacing or other nervous habits
  • Changes in job performance
  • Aggressive or hostile behaviours

If you find yourself constantly experiencing these issues, it’s a good indicator that you’re struggling with stress. Reaching out for medical assessment and discussing options with your healthcare provider could be beneficial.

Does stress co-occur with addiction?

Stress and addiction are closely linked, often influencing and worsening each other in complex ways. This connection is particularly noticeable in places like the UK, where reaching for substances as a way to deal with stress is all too common. Here are reasons why stress and addiction may co-occur and influence each other:

Coping mechanism

You might find yourself reaching for an alcoholic drink to unwind after a tough day at work. While a glass of wine can seem like a quick fix, it could turn into a slippery slope. Over time, you might need more alcohol to feel relaxed, increasing the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Essentially, what starts as a harmless attempt to relieve stress could spiral into a dependency.


Experiencing chronic stress can affect your brain’s reward system, particularly affecting neurotransmitters like dopamine. Substances like drugs or alcohol can mimic the pleasure and relief this system is supposed to provide, leading to addictive behaviours. Prolonged stress might even alter your brain’s structure and functionality, impairing your decision-making and making you more prone to engaging in addictive behaviour.

Psychosocial stress

Addiction can deeply impact every aspect of a person’s life, including their personal relationships, social connections and career. The overpowering urge to satisfy the addiction can cause someone to overlook their duties, strain or break relationships and withdraw from social activities. Financial difficulties often arise from the costs of supporting the addiction, alongside potential legal troubles tied to actions taken under the influence or in pursuit of substances.

These challenges create a heavy load of stress as the person battles to handle the fallout of their addiction while still caught in the cycle of substance use or addictive behaviour. This stress is ongoing, lingering for a long time and closely tied to the nature of the addiction and its fallout.

Environmental factors

Stressful life events, trauma or even where you live can play a significant role in stress and addiction. For example, growing up in a challenging environment or being around others who use substances can increase your risk of developing an addiction. This is due to the easier access to drugs, as well as the idea that taking drugs is fine if everyone else is too.

Treatment options for stress and addiction

At Sanctuary Lodge, we’re committed to helping you tackle drug addiction at our rehab facility. Although we don’t specifically offer stress treatment options, the therapies we provide are crafted to help you face both addiction and stress together. Here’s what you can expect from us:

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT is a foundational element of our therapy approach, and it has shown great effectiveness in managing both addiction and stress. It focuses on mindfulness, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness, which are particularly beneficial if you’re navigating the complexities of addiction alongside stress. DBT aims to equip you with vital skills for handling stressors, boosting your emotional resilience, and enhancing your coping strategies.

Group and individual therapy

Our comprehensive therapy programme includes group and individual sessions to cater to your needs. Group therapy fosters a community feeling, helping alleviate the isolation that often accompanies addiction and stress. It’s a space where sharing experiences and receiving peer support can make a significant difference. On the other hand, individual therapy offers a more personalised touch, enabling you to explore the deeper causes of your addiction and stress. Our therapists are here to work with you, crafting coping strategies that are as unique as you are.

Holistic therapies

We understand the deep connection between your physical, mental and emotional health. Our holistic therapies, like yoga, meditation and art therapy, are designed to nurture your overall well-being. These practices aren’t just beneficial for recovering from addiction; they’re also powerful tools for stress relief. By weaving holistic therapies into your treatment, we aim to provide a comprehensive approach that supports your journey to lasting recovery and reduced stress.


Our support doesn’t end when the initial rehabilitation phase does. Aftercare services play a vital role in helping you as you reintegrate into your daily life, offering a continuity of care that’s essential for managing both addiction and stress. Staying connected with a supportive network allows you to face challenges more effectively, reducing the chance of relapse and helping you manage any stressors during recovery.

What are the next steps?

Struggling with addiction and stress can feel like carrying a weight too heavy to bear alone. Sanctuary Lodge offers a compassionate, supportive environment to help you lift that burden. Our team of experts understands what you’re going through and can guide you towards recovery. Reach out to Sanctuary Lodge today for a chance at a new beginning.

(Click here to see works cited)

  • Vittozzi, Katerina. “Warning of ‘human Catastrophe’ as More Turn to Drink and Drugs to ‘Numb Stress’ of Cost of Living.” Sky News, Sky, 6 Nov. 2022,
  • Sinha R. Chronic stress, drug use and vulnerability to addiction. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2008;1141:105-130. doi:10.1196/annals.1441.030
  • Torres-Berrio A, Cuesta S, Lopez-Guzman S, Nava-Mesa MO. Interaction Between Stress and Addiction: Contributions From Latin-American Neuroscience. Front Psychol. 2018;9:2639. Published 2018 Dec 21. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02639
  • Mennis J, Stahler GJ, Mason MJ. Risky Substance Use Environments and Addiction: A New Frontier for Environmental Justice Research. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2016;13(6):607. Published 2016 Jun 18. doi:10.3390/ijerph13060607
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