How Stress Leads to Substance Abuse




We all experience situations in our lives that stress us out. In fact, stress is unavoidable. Stress, however, isn’t bad. How people deal with stress is what poses a problem. Many people are affected so much by stress that it damages their physical and mental well-being.


People deal with stress in many ways–some productively and some negatively. There are those that can’t cope with stress so they try to escape by means of alcohol or drugs as a form of self-medication. While this provides temporary relief, this can be highly destructive in the long run.

Resorting to drugs and alcohol to cope with stress can only mean that in the long run, they will inadvertently create more stress in their life than ever. However, due to their substance abuse, they will be less capable to manage their situation.

Stress and Stress Triggers

Stress is subjective. What stress means to one person can be different to another. Some things are stressful to one person and other things can be stressful to others. For example, people feel stressed when it comes to commuting through traffic to work, while for others, this doesn’t seem like a big deal.

A more scientific definition to stress is, a response to a demand. The body responds to a sense of danger or threat. Stress also triggers our primitive “fight or flight” response.

This said, stress isn’t necessarily negative. Stress is in fact necessary to our survival. What defines its positive or negative effect to our lives is the way we handle stress.

Here are some examples of stress triggers:

  • Sickness of a loved one
  • Death of a loved one
  • Conflicts at home
  • Problems at work
  • Personal physical problems or illness
  • Major life events or changes
  • Sudden unexpected and undesired events such as a disaster
  • Unhealthy habiits
  • Financial problems
  • Legal problems

Self-medicating Stress

Self-medication is when you turn to drugs, alcohol, or behavior as a way to deal with stressful situations. While depressants, such as alcohol, can calm you for a while, the repercussions are far from ideal in the long run. Eventually, you would need to take more and more of the substance to help make you feel better–and before you know it, you’re addicted.

Using drugs or alcohol, as well as resorting to certain behavior such as gambling or binge-eating, is a dangerous short-term solution.

  • It can lead to substance abuse and even addiction. It can get to a point that it’s going to be difficult to stop, until you lose everything.
  • Self-medicating stress may also just make your problems worse, or at least not solve the problem. You are not learning ways to deal with stress–you’re only escaping it, or turning your back, but it doesn’t make the problem disappear.
  • The more problems occur because of your substance abuse, the more you may want to use drugs or alcohol to deal, and it becomes a vicious cycle.

How would you know if you’re stressed?

  • sleeplessness or restless sleep
  • loss of appetite
  • comfort eating
  • chronic headaches
  • indigestion
  • anxiety
  • fuzzy thinking
  • lack of energy
  • muscle tension
  • lowered immune system
  • decreased libido
  • frustration
  • irritability
  • mood swings

How you can better deal with stress:

  • meditation
  • physical activity or exercise
  • breathing exercises
  • going outdoors to recharge
  • keeping a journal
  • having an attitude of gratitude
  • being around a positive support group
  • having a hobby
  • listening to music
  • keeping yourself healthy
  • having a healthy disposition

If you are still feeling stressed, then you also have to seek advice from a therapist.


If you, however, start to use drugs or alcohol to deal with stress, then it’s best to get intervention before things go further downhill. You can talk to our rehab specialists. Call or text 09175098826 (Manila) or 09177046659 (Cebu).

2 Responses to “How Stress Leads to Substance Abuse”

Join the conversation