People who abuse drugs are more vulnerable to stress than the general population and stressors can trigger craving in people who are addicted(Frances, Miller, & Mack, 2005). Relapse can be a response to unrecognized and unmanaged personal irritations, frustrations, and stress. Stress has no biological structure like germs or viruses. It is purely the result of how the mind and body interact. It is a true example of the connection between mind and body, how we think about things, and our body’s physical reaction to those thoughts. So what is stress? Stress is an emotional response as well as a physical response. It is characterized by increased heart rate, a rise in blood pressure, muscular tension, irritability, and often, depression. Take a moment and write in your own words your definition of stress on the “Personal Stress Inventory Worksheet” at the end of this chapter.
In the Every Day Stressors and Work Stressors columns, add at least two concrete examples of what causes you to feel stress. An example of an every day stressor could be that your neighbor runs his lawnmower at 6 AM on Sundays. Keep this list beside you and add items as you think of your stressors. You will be building your own stress inventory.
You do have choices as to how you react to daily stressors. For example: You’re driving to work on a busy highway in the fast lane. The driver in front of you is driving below the posted speed limit and refuses to get out of your way.
- Follow them until they pull over and yell at them.
- Exceed the speed limit, change lanes and go around them, while shaking your fist at them.
- Breathe deeply and calmly and turn on your radio.
- Decide that they’re just another driver on the highway.
- Slow down and accept that you will get there when you get there.
Another common stressor: you have been having trouble sleeping and you are still tired when your alarm clock goes off.
- Smash your alarm clock; go back to sleep, and miss work.
- Yell at your partner, get up, and bang drawers and doors.
- Get up and decide that today you will make a plan to improve your sleep.
- Get up, eat breakfast, and go to work.
- Call in sick.
Every stressful situation comes with several solutions. The choices you make can increase your anger, depression, anxiety, and stress. Choices can increase the conflict and problems in your life. Or, choices can calm you, enhance your feelings of well-being, and support you to find solutions that benefit you and those around you. Your solutions can make it more fun to be you. You can teach yourself new ways to solve problems. Life is always filled with stressful situations. Learning to manage stress is about thinking and living with a different frame of mind.
Think back to your most recent relapse. Picture what was happening in your life, the stressors or irritations you were facing in the days leading up to and just before your decision to use again. Review the following list of items and check off any that apply to your prerelapse situation. You are identifying the stressors you experienced just before you decided to use again:
Now, take five minutes and go back to your “Personal Stress Inventory Worksheet.” Compare the examples of daily stressors that you wrote down previously with the above list of stressors that you experienced before your last relapse. Are they the same or different? High-risk stressors are the stressors that were present in the days and hours before you relapsed. Add checked items on the above list to your “Personal Stress Inventory Worksheet” and underline any items already on the worksheet that were present prior to your last relapse. These are your high-risk stressors. This is the beginning of a very important part of your relapse prevention plan. You can’t manage stress and prevent relapse if you don’t take the time to identify the specific high-risk stressors that you frequently face.