Essential for Addicts: Managing Stress in Recovery

For many, stress was a contributing factor in the development of their addiction. In fact, when it comes to substance abuse and addiction, stress is one of the more common triggers.

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One of the important lessons that we learn in recovery is how to manage our stress in a healthier manner without the use of drugs and alcohol. Being told how to do this is one thing, but actually managing stress in recovery once we get back out into the real world can be a challenge. If we let our stress get the best of us, it can increase the chances of a relapse.

Keep reading to learn more about the importance of managing stress in recovery as well as some helpful tips for managing the stresses of your new daily, sober life.

What Is Relapse?

Before we get into stress and healthy ways to manage it, it is first important to understand the concept of relapse. Relapse occurs when we slip up and fall back into our old ways of drinking or doing drugs. Relapse can be a one-off or it can occur as a result of regularly using again.

Relapse has a negative connotation both inside and outside of the recovery world. Relapse is regularly viewed as a sign of weakness and failure.

It is important to remember though that we are all human and everyone makes mistakes. If you relapse, it doesn’t mean you have failed. In fact, relapse is part of the recovery process. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, almost half of all people in recovery relapse at least one time in their life.

The key to relapse is what you do after it occurs. The most important thing to do is to not beat yourself up about it. Instead, use it as a learning experience for the future.

Stress and Relapse

drug recovery stress management

One of the more common triggers that leads us to drink or do drugs is stress. When we are stressed we often look for ways to escape the stress, even if just for a brief moment so we can feel some relief. An easy way to do that is to have a drink or two, pop a pill, or perform an activity that can be addicting as well. While it might seem like an effective strategy at the time, long term it can increase the risk of the development of a substance abuse or addiction issue.

Stress is also the number one cause of relapse in recovery. With the changes in brain function that occur during addiction, stress can cause the brain to crave alcohol or drugs again, despite our better judgment and what we learned during treatment about healthier coping mechanisms.

When we are stressed, our brain tends to go into “fight or flight” mode which affects our ability to think rationally and clearly. As a result, we might fall back into unhealthy patterns such as drinking or doing drugs again in order to self-medicate and relieve some of the stress.

Managing Stress in Recovery

Since stress can cause us to stop thinking clearly and rationally when we find ourselves stressed out we have to make an extra effort to acknowledge that we are stressed so that we can handle it in a healthy and productive manner.

If you are looking for some healthy ways to manage your stress and eliminate the possible cravings that can come along with stress, below are some things you can do.


Exercise is not only a great way to deal with your stress and improve your mental health, but it is also cheap and can help you get into better shape which, in turn, will make you feel better overall.

When you exercise it releases endorphins into the body and the brain. Endorphins are the “feel good” chemical that causes you to feel happy, calm, and relaxed. When your brain is calm and relaxed it can think clearly and rationally, helping prevent relapse.

Yoga, Meditation, and Mindfulness

Sometimes the best thing we can do when we are stressed is to simply take a step back and remove ourselves from the situation. Unfortunately in life though, we also can’t just go running away whenever something stressful or uncomfortable arises, especially when it comes to our daily obligations.

Practicing yoga, meditation, or mindfulness allows us to experience that escape without having to do much in terms of changing our routines. By taking a few minutes here and there throughout the day to shut everything out and focus on our breathing and being one with ourselves, it allows us to refocus and shed some of the stress of our daily life.

One particular breathing method that is effective with yoga and medication is called 4-7-8 breathing. Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold it for 7 seconds, and then exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds.

Adopt a Healthy Diet

The food you eat can play a role in how your body reacts to stress. If you commit to eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, your body and brain can be more adapt to fighting off stress naturally. Anything that you can do to help your body better fight off stress can go a long way in staying clean and sober and not suffering from a relapse.

Find a New Hobby

One of the “side-effects” of addiction is that most of your previously enjoyable activities and hobbies fell by the wayside in order to spend more time drinking or doing drugs.

Rediscovering one of these old hobbies or activities, or even picking up a new one can be a great way to find fun things to do that won’t make you think about drinking or doing drugs or put you in situations where you might be around triggers.

If there was ever something that you always wanted to do or try out, what better time to give it a go than right now?!

Make Yourself A Priority

A major cause of stress in our lives is spreading ourselves too thin. It is in our nature to want to be there for others, which can sometimes make it hard to say no to things. While it might sound selfish, sometimes it is ok to say no sometimes, especially when our own mental health and well-being are in order.

By making yourself a priority, you are in better control when it comes to controlling your stress levels. Before committing to something, ask yourself if saying yes is going to cause unwanted stress in your life. If the answer is yes, you might want to politely decline the invitation or request or come up with an alternative that will put less of a strain on you and your mental health.

Don’t Stress Over What You Can’t Control

A great way to get rid of unnecessary stress is to simply let go of things that you can’t control. Stressing out over things you have no control over only adds stress into your life that you do not need. You already have enough stress in your life from things you can control, so why waste time and energy on things that you have no control over?

What Should I Do If I Have Relapsed?

addiction recovery stress

Despite our best efforts, sometimes relapse still happens. If you experience a relapse the first thing to remember is to not beat yourself up too much about it. It’s also important to remember that just because you relapsed doesn’t mean you failed.

The best thing you can do after a relapse is to talk to someone and work on starting a new recovery journey. That could mean attending a meeting, scheduling an emergency session with your therapist, or even going back to treatment.

Many treatment centers offer aftercare and relapse services designed for those that might have slipped up during recovery and need a little help getting back on track.

Depending on the severity of your relapse you might need to start the addiction recovery process all over again by first detoxing and then entering into a treatment program again. Oftentimes, inpatient treatment won’t be necessary and you can do outpatient treatment or partial hospitalization so that you can continue to go about your daily life while getting the help that you need from your relapse.

Want To Know More About Managing Stress in Recovery?

When left unmanaged, stress is the number one cause of relapse in those who are in recovery. If you or someone you know is dealing with unhealthy stress levels, or have recently experienced a relapse, contact us today at Live Free Recovery. Our goal is to not only help you get clean and sober the first time but to stay sober for decades to come.