Has the volatility on Wall Street stretched your finances to the limit? Or maybe you are experiencing tension in an important relationship with a family member or co-worker. Are you feeling anxious because of a pivotal career decision? Maybe you or someone you know has accrued overwhelming debt because of medical expenses. Stressful situations increase the chances of substance abuse – so it is important to be vigilant and prevent destructive behaviors from taking hold in the first place.

Physical Mechanisms Behind and Effects of Stress

Whatever the reason or reasons, increased stress affects people both emotionally and physically. Stressful situations cause the body to release a variety of chemicals in the body and brain as the individual prepares to respond to the stressful situation. Depending on the duration and intensity of the stress, stress can cause anxiety, depression, fatigue, hypertension, Crohn's Disease, ulcers, arrhythmia, tension headaches, and irritability.

Males vs. Females

A recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association indicates that women seem to feel more stress about the fluctuating economy than men do. According to the survey, older women (44+) were more concerned about financial matters than about their health. Both men and women reported modifying their eating behaviors – which included skipping meals, eating too much, or eating unhealthy foods – in response to recent stressful events. The survey also found that alcohol and smoking were outlets for nearly 20% of the group that was surveyed.

Stress and Substance Abuse

The National Institute on Drug Abuse recognizes that stress is a major cause of individuals relapsing on drugs or alcohol. Many users perceive drugs and alcohol as a way to quickly escape from difficult realities, even though the high is temporary. However, drugs and alcohol can fast become expensive methods of coping, exacerbating financial problems. Since they do not address the actual problem, If you or someone you know is facing a stressful situation, or many small stresses, it is important to recognize and be aware of your methods of coping with these stressors.

Unhealthy Coping Strategies

  • Trying or relapsing on illegal substances like cocaine, crack, meth, or heroin, or abusing prescription medicines like Vicodin, Xanax, Oxycontin, and others.
  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or hiding any drinking behaviors from others.
  • Eating more than you usually do, or eating many unhealthy foods.
  • Engaging in unsafe sexual behaviors.
  • Avoiding social situations.
  • Avoiding work.
  • Avoiding exercise.

Healthy Alternatives

Depending on your level of life stress, these alternatives to drugs, alcohol, and smoking may help you release some of the stress you are feeling.

  • Consult a physician or therapist - If you or someone you love perceives that what you are doing by yourself is not improving your situation, you should consider speaking with a medical doctor or psychologist.
  • Make a plan & stick to it - Major problems don't go away by themselves. By coming up with a plan of action and working on it every day, you will feel like you are accomplishing something as you work toward a resolution.
  • Set reasonable expectations – Don't create more stress for yourself by trying to do more than is reasonably possible for you to do.
  • Celebrate big and small victories – Make a conscious effort to appreciate the good things that are happening in your life as well. Celebrations don't have to be expensive, either.
  • Exercise – A great way to relieve stress is by releasing extra energy in exercise. Exercise will also make you feel better, and when you feel better, you will be better able to cope with your stressful situation
  • Talk to a friend or family member – Developing a support network can be very helpful. Getting other people's opinions and venting stress and feelings may improve your mood. Be careful to make sure that the people you share information with have your best interest at heart; don't share with someone who may repeat what you are saying in confidence and make the situation worse.