National Stress Awareness Month | The Impact Of Stress On Substance Use

Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS

on April 8, 2023

Every April, Ohioans and other Americans observe National Stress Awareness Month. This public awareness campaign highlights the risks of chronic stress, including drug abuse and addiction. It also encourages people to share healthy ways to manage stress, such as exercising, getting enough sleep, and spending time with loved ones.

Everyone experiences stress. Sometimes, stress motivates you to get out of dangerous situations, strive toward your goals, and make other healthy changes. 

However, too much stress can lead to health problems, including drug abuse and addiction. That’s why many Ohioans and other Americans observe National Stress Awareness Month every April.

What Is National Stress Awareness Month?

Created in April 1992, National Stress Awareness Month is a public awareness campaign that highlights the effects of stress and ways to manage it. It’s sponsored by a non-profit health education organization called The Health Resource Network (HRN).

You can participate in National Stress Awareness Month by learning about stress and discussing it with your family and friends.

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What Is Stress?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines stress as “a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation.” Some of the most common signs of stress include:

  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • fatigue
  • depression
  • loss of motivation
  • reduced appetite
  • trouble sleeping
  • trouble concentrating

Stress can also cause physical symptoms, such as headache, stomach problems, and muscle tension. 

In addition, chronic stress (stress that lasts for a long time) can increase your risk of health issues like high blood pressure and heart disease. It can also worsen pre-existing health conditions, including mental health conditions such as depression. 

The Impact Of Stress On Substance Use

To cope with stress, some people turn to drug abuse. The most commonly abused drugs include alcohol, prescription drugs like OxyContin and Xanax, and illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine

These substances may temporarily numb stress. However, they also pose serious health risks, including overdose and drug addiction. 

Risk Of Addiction

Drug addiction (also called substance use disorder) is a serious disease that makes you feel unable to stop using drugs. When people recover from addiction, stress can increase their risk of relapse. 

In general, the longer you experience stress, the higher your risk of drug abuse and addiction. 

That’s because chronic stress can reduce the amount of dopamine in your brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) associated with pleasure, reward, and motivation. 

Over time, too much stress may damage your brain’s dopamine receptors, making it difficult for you to feel happy. 

You may then start relying on drugs to improve your mood. This behavior typically leads to addiction. The most common symptoms of drug addiction include:

  • frequent drug cravings
  • tolerance (needing increasingly higher or more frequent doses of a drug to feel the desired effects)
  • physical dependence (experiencing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when you don’t use drugs)
  • loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • loss of motivation

If you or someone you love experiences these symptoms, seek help at an addiction treatment program. 

How To Manage Stress

It’s important to find healthy ways to cope with stress, especially if you have a history of drug abuse and addiction. Some of the most effective ways to manage stress include:


When you exercise, your body releases endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that decrease stress and increase your sense of well-being. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. For example, you could go for a 30-minute walk 5 days a week. 

Get Plenty Of Sleep

According to the CDC, adults need at least 7 hours of sleep per night. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body releases stress hormones such as cortisol. As a result, you may find it more difficult to deal with stressful situations throughout the day. 

If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and a comfortable temperature. You should also avoid caffeine, alcohol, and electronic devices before bedtime. 

Eat Healthy Foods

A healthy diet gives you the energy you need to manage stressful situations. Every day, eat plenty of nutritious foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins. Also, make sure you’re drinking enough water. Most adults need about four to six cups of water per day.

Practice Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness means observing the present moment without judgment. One of the easiest ways to practice it is called mindful breathing. To try it, take a few minutes to focus on the feeling of your breath entering and leaving your body. 

When a thought arises, notice it without judging it, and gently return your attention to your breath.

Other healthy ways to destress include:

  • spending time with loved ones
  • spending time in nature
  • journaling
  • taking a bath
  • reading
  • engaging in a creative activity, such as drawing, writing, or playing an instrument

If you or someone you love struggles with drugs, please reach out to Ohio Recovery Center. Our board-certified healthcare providers offer medical detox, mental health counseling, and other evidence-based treatments to help you or your loved one thrive.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Do You Get Enough Sleep?
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — How much physical activity do adults need?
  3. eLife — The effects of psychosocial stress on dopaminergic function and the acute stress response
  4. Harvard Health Publishing — How much water should you drink?
  5. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health — Stress and Health
  6. National Institutes of Health — National Stress Awareness Month
  7. World Health Organization — Stress

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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