In the United States, people spend a lot of time at work. Some figures even claim that we spend up to a third of our lives on our careers. That time spent at work may contribute to our personal goals and financial stability, but it can also contribute to stress. Worse yet, it can contribute to stress and addiction.
While at work, productivity, efficiency, and consistency are all emphasized. When an individual is not at work, they are often praised for dedicating time to workplace matters despite being on vacation or it being the weekend. This type of work culture creates a lifestyle void of downtime and leisure. Two things that are critical for working professionals who need to recharge.
All the time spent at work or dealing with work matters outside of the workplace mixed with a lack of leisure is a recipe for stress. Unfortunately, stress is a major contributing factor toward developing a drug or alcohol addiction. This is because as an individual tries to find ways to cope with job-related stress, they may begin to self-medicate to deal with the pressure being placed on them by their career.
What is Stress?
Stress is something that most people are all too familiar with. It is often described as the feeling of being overwhelmed, worried, or anxious over something significant. In general, stress is normal and something that everyone deals with. However, there are different kinds of stress, acute stress and chronic stress:
- Acute Stress: Acute stress is stress that has a deadline. Usually, it is stress that will go away once the stressor is gone. This stress can range from having a wasp fly close to you to taking a midterm exam.
- Chronic Stress: Chronic stress lasts for an extended period and cannot be resolved by the stressor disappearing. It is stress that builds up over time and becomes overwhelming rather than acute.
While stress tends to be perceived as negative, it can, in actuality, enhance performance in some ways. Positive stress is what makes an individual step outside of their comfort zone and allows them to challenge themselves with new projects. So stress isn’t always bad, but when stress becomes so strong that it begins to cripple someone with overwhelming feelings, then it assumes the form of stress that can lead to addiction issues.
What Causes Job Stress?
The unique stressors associated with different careers may vary greatly depending on what type of job someone does. For example, doctors generally have very high-stress levels when their patients’ lives depend on their job performance. Other contributors to stress at work include:
- Poor organization
- Lack of proper training
- Interpersonal conflicts at work
- High-performance expectations
- Overwhelming amounts of responsibility
- Lack of support from managers or supervisors
Another contributor to work-related stress relates to how often a person works. In the US, we work a lot. On average, workers get around 10 vacation days per year. This is significantly less than what workers in other parts of the world, such as the United Kingdom, receive yearly. Subsequently, American workers are facing a public health crisis due to the amount of work-related stress they experience.
Other factors such as pressure to provide for a family can lead to stress and even stress-related disorders such as acute stress disorder.
The Health Risks Associated with Stress and Addiction
Stress does not only produce feelings of unease in a person. Chronic stress can contribute to several different health issues such as high blood pressure. Some of these health issues include the following:
- Sleep disturbances
- Increased stress responses
- Lack of focus and memory issues
- Poor decision-making, leading to riskier behavior (substance abuse) and possible negative consequences (disciplinary action, termination, jail time).
Additionally, alcohol and drug use cause an increased chance for accidents while performing work duties such as driving a car or using machinery in the workplace. This may lead to injuries which can be costly for an employer if worker’s compensation has to pay the costs associated with the accident caused by substance abuse.
The Relationship Between Stress and Addiction
There are many reasons why someone may begin using drugs. One of the main reasons is the inability to deal with stress healthily. When a person is unable to employ healthy coping mechanisms, they may instead use drugs or alcohol.
As a person uses these substances to unwind, they may begin to build a tolerance that leads to more drug or alcohol consumption. Unfortunately, this can easily spiral into drug abuse and cause the development of an addiction.
Job Stress and Substance Abuse
Some jobs are highly stressful by nature. Dangerous jobs such as firefighting may entail stress that is related to physical injuries, such as the threat of bodily harm in dangerous situations. Other stressors for these professions can include shift work, such as overnight or night shifts that interfere with employees getting good quality rest All of this stress can lead to job burnout and substance abuse problems.
High-stress jobs do not just involve firefights or explosions. Doctors and nurses who deal with sick patients daily also have a high risk of developing an addiction due to stress. Nurses often interact with grumpy patients while doctors have a hectic schedule every day. As a result, stress and substance abuse end up going hand in hand.
Preventing Work Burnout
If you’re experiencing work burnout, there are a few ways to cope with the stress. First, you have to be able to identify if you’re experiencing burnout. The following signs indicate that you are stressed and overworked:
- Having a negative attitude about work or while at work
- Dreading going into your job or wanting to leave your job when you’re there
- Having little energy at your place of work
- Feeling uninterested in the work you’re doing
- Having consistent feelings of apathy or emptiness
- Consistently missing days at work
- Being easily irritated at work by your coworkers, managers, or clients
- Thinking of changing roles or quitting
- Feeling unappreciated at work
- Thinking that your job is meaningless
It is important to figure out what is contributing to your stress and feeling of burnout. Often, the word “stress” is used as a placeholder for more specific feelings. It’s important to pinpoint exactly how you feel. Are you stressed or are you, instead, feeling overworked or underappreciated? Once you understand what is causing your feeling of stress, then, you can make changes that lessen the stress. A few ways to break the cycle of stress and addiction by managing burnout include:
Taking Time for Yourself
The relationship between stress and addiction has become evident with the rise of new technology. With the development of email, cell phones, texting, etc., some people can work around the clock. As some workers increase their workloads, they may turn to stress drinking or the abuse of illicit/prescription drugs to escape from stress or just cope.
Instead of constantly being plugged in, setting boundaries with work can lessen stress. Only taking business calls during business hours is a great first step. Not dealing with work on the weekends is another way to lessen the pressure. Alternatively, spend this time with family or friends or doing things that help you feel relaxed and rejuvenated.
Take Care of Your Mental and Physical Health
When you’re not at work, it’s important to take care of yourself. Otherwise, how can you show up as your best self? Getting enough sleep at night, eating a healthy diet, and exercising won’t make your work stress disappear. However, by taking care of yourself, you’ll find it’s easier to deal with stress when it happens. all without the numbing effect of drugs or alcohol.
Find Purpose in Your Work
You may not think that your job is important, but the actual work you do can have little to do with the significance of your role. Your job can also be a valuable source of income that supports you or your family. While you may think your role isn’t impactful, what it provides you and your family with is.
Alternatively, feeling as though your job does not align with your values can be a good reason to find a job that does. Finding a position that you find more fulfilling can put you in a better frame of mind. However, it’s important to remember that just because you see value in what you do doesn’t mean that there won’t be stress brought on by your work.
Learn to Manage Stress
Stress management can help you break the ties between stress and addiction in your life. Stress is a constant in everyone’s life. Often, it is how we deal with stress that determines whether or not stress becomes a problem for us.
There are many stress management techniques out there, and it is important to find stress-relieving activities and healthy coping mechanisms. These may include monitoring your thoughts to practice positive thinking or using relaxation techniques such as meditation or mindful breathing.
Managing Stress and Addiction with Free By the Sea
If you have turned to drugs or alcohol to deal with work-related stress and are unable to stop substance use, help is available. At Free By the Sea, we understand that, at times, stress and addiction go hand in hand. This is why we offer addiction treatment that focuses on the development of healthy coping skills.
We also offer various therapies that promote positive thinking and emotional regulation, so you can handle whatever life throws at you. If you’re ready to commit to sobriety, contact us today to learn more about our addiction treatment programs.
Dr. Richard Crabbe joined our team in 2019 as our psychiatrist and medical director. He attended the University of Ghana Medical School where he became a Medical Doctor in 1977. From 1978 through 1984, he was a medical officer in the Ghana Navy and provided a variety of services from general medicine to surgeries. He received his Certificate in General Psychology from the American Board of Psychology and Neurology in 2002.