How Does Relationship Stress Influence Recovery From Addiction?

In addiction of any kind is, by definition, a challenge. But, piled atop this reality is everyday life. Whatever mental health issue you may be dealing with, there are always other issues complicating matters. For example, every relationship involves some level of stress. However, if one of you is trying to recover from addiction, this normal stress can become an obstacle.

In fact, any relationship in which a partner is struggling with addiction is bound to have higher than usual stress levels. Therefore, as a first step, it is essential to understand how relationship stress can influence anyone’s recovery from addiction.

What is Relationship Stress?

Stress comes in countless forms. But if you find that your connection with your partner has become overwhelming, you could be dealing with relationship stress. Generally speaking, relationship stress arises from the standard push-and-pull every couple experiences. For example, about three out of four couples report struggling with financial problems.

Other factors can be unhealthy communication, lack of intimacy, illness in the family, and more. When tension becomes chronic, it can impact all aspects of a couple’s life. Once again, if addiction is present for either partner, it can ramp up stress while hampering recovery.

How Stress and Substance Abuse Can Be Connected

The excessive use and abuse of drugs or alcohol affects one’s life in major ways. This means it can also hurt friends, family members, and romantic partners. Put simply, addiction is a serious cause of stress. That said, it works the other way, too. Stress can often increase the likelihood of addictions and/or relapses.

A big reason for this trend involves the negative emotions that spring from relationship stress. Feelings like guilt, anger, shame, and anxiety can become more than a person feels they can handle. In an attempt to numb the distress, drugs and alcohol become a common coping choice. Such self-medication only exacerbates the problem — leaving the couple struggling with double the tension.

So, Can Relationship Stress Lead to Addiction?

Depending on a person’s personal or family history, they can be more vulnerable to stress-induced addiction. The presence of past trauma is another crucial factor. Whatever the root cause, the brain’s reward system gets short-circuited and triggers behaviors that lay the foundation for addiction.

Hence, mental health professionals who are helping someone to recover from addiction must consider the role of stress of all types — including relationship stress. They have the dual goals of:

  • Helping an individual recover and sustain recovery from addiction
  • Addressing underlying stressors to decrease the odds of unhealthy coping mechanisms like self-medication

Addressing the Interplay Between Relationship Stress and Recovery From Addiction

Due to the convergence of several complicated factors, your path toward healing must include some professional guidance. However, there are also some valuable self-help steps you can take to help the process move along, e.g.:

  • Take one step at a time: You’re not required to tackle all the issues at once. Working cooperatively with your partner, work on one problem or conflict at a time.
  • Remember who you are to each other: This is not a competition or war. You and the person you love most are in the midst of a rough patch. That’s no excuse to lose respect for each other.
  • Practice gratitude: Even in tough times, there are things to be thankful for. Identify these bright spots, acknowledge them, and celebrate them. Let each other know that you appreciate each other — even when relationship stress is present.


But no matter what, do not go it alone. If the details of this post feel familiar to you, I invite you to reach out for the support you need and deserve.

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