The relationship between work-related environments and substance abuse is not new. There are several models (mostly focused on work stress and alcoholism) that examine this dynamic. To begin worker substance abuse is a serious public health issue. The ramifications of substance abuse, either alcohol or other drugs, (also known as AOD) does not impact the user alone. Indeed, alcoholism and drug abuse affect the bottom line through reduced attendance, employee turnover, impaired performance, and increased health costs. It also places a strain on the healthy functioning of the family unit. According to the article Work Stress and Alcohol Use, funded by NIAAA and a Scientific Development Award) the most common models about work stress and alcoholism should be combined. That is:

  • Work-alienation: one’s job is unenriched, requires minimal skills, little or no input in decision making
  • Work-stress: aversed working conditions such as an abusive boss, dangerous physical work environment, interpersonal conflicts at work, unfair working conditions and pay equity, job insecurity

“People in jobs where they don’t perceive themselves to have a lot of control are susceptible to developing clinical anxiety and depression, as well as stress-related medical conditions like ulcers and diabetes,” according to Stress and Addiction an article in Psychology Today (May 2017)

According to the earlier study, variability in individual psychologies and the ability to regulate emotions are crucial in both models. Additionally, the element of work-family conflicts can play a huge role in a person’s risk factor in substance abuse

Stress, Substance Use and Addiction

Stress is experienced as an emotional and physiological reaction to a stimulus. Early childhood traumas now referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is known to make one susceptible to substance abuse. Stress in and of itself is not a bad thing, at times it is part of healthy self-regulating behaviors. But there are significant differences that shape acute stress and chronic stress. To examine the impact of these types of stress, researchers have turned to brain imagining and tracking the chemical and neurological changes in the brain.

Studies now give scientists and doctors insight into the functioning of the hippocampus, the frontal cortex, neuron-receptors, etc. Intense levels of stress have a direct effect on appropriate executive function ( memory, decision making, problem-solving) and high-level cognitive behavior. Chronic stress can create changes in the brain. And when those changes are accompanied by the addition of alcohol and drugs the ability to regulate emotions, behaviors is diminished while the need to feed the reward messages in the brain increase.

Increasing the Risk of Substance Abuse as a Means of Coping with Work-Related Stress

The dynamic between work stress and personality characteristics cannot be ignored. Generalizations about people’s weaknesses do not address the problems. But researchers now know that common factors in personal experience can provoke substance abuse (alcohol and/or drug abuse), especially when combined with a stressful work environment.

  • People use alcohol and drug to try to regulate intense emotions
  • People are easily swayed by peers to join in an after work drink with the belief that this behavior strengthens work relationships
  • Employees who abuse AOD have few mechanisms outside of alcohol or drugs to relax

According to the study Is Workplace Stress a Trigger for Alcohol and Drug Abuse

“Studies …have shown that there is a close relationship between stress and alcohol and drug abuse. The more stressful events followed by inefficient coping strategies, the greater the vulnerability to drug addiction and abuse. The more negative situations, the greater the risk of using alcohol or drugs as a coping strategy to improve one’s mood or distract oneself from disagreeable sensations.”

The Development of Coping Skills that Build Resiliency to Substance Abuse

The skills needed to cope with stressful events and chronic adversity and to regulate emotions, including emotions that arise in response to stress, are fundamental and pervasive aspects of development that emerge over the course of childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.

When these skills are appropriately developed in the early stages of youth and young adults, coping with stressors, including work-related stress is more easily managed. When these skills are missing, and the stressors remain constant, an individual will seek release from the feelings associated with the stress: anxiety, fear, anger, frustration, depression, etc.

Healthy ways of handling the stress include:

  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals
  • Exercise on a regular basis
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Give yourself a break if you feel stressed out
  • Talk to others. Share your problems and how you are feeling and coping with a parent, friend, counselor, doctor, or pastor.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. These may seem to help with the stress. But in the long run, they create additional problems and increase the stress you are already feeling.
  • Take a break. If news events are causing your stress, take a break from listening or watching the news.

Seeking Treatment Can Help

If you or someone you know is feeling overwhelmed by stressors, is suffering from a mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, and have turned to using AOD, then a quality substance abuse treatment facility can help. Diagnosing the issues underlying the substance abuse (alcohol or drugs or both) is crucial if treatment is to be effective. Once a person has been accurately diagnosed, and an individualized treatment plan has been developed, the treatment program can build the foundation on which recovery is possible. Call to speak with a representative who can answer all your questions about treatment and recovery from alcoholism, drug addiction and interconnectedness of mental health disorders.