What Biological Stress Cues Occur That Could Lead Someone to Relapse?

woman Stressed at work

If you’re in recovery and have experienced a relapse before, you may be currently exploring what led you to relapse. While many people fear that relapse is a sign of “weakness” or “failure”, relapse has been shown to help individuals strengthen their recovery by learning what works for them, what doesn’t, and what aspects of treatment need to be reinforced. As part of your discovery, you mean learn of certain stress symptoms that “prepped” you for relapse. Once you’ve identified that external cues that led you to relapse, it may seem quite simple; in reality, there’s a lot going on underneath the surface.

A 2018 study conducted by researchers from Connecticut sought to identify the biological stress markers that indicate someone as a risk for relapse. The study involved 40 people recovering from alcohol dependence who were already in an inpatient treatment program. Participants were asked to identify a highly stressful time in their lives that led to subsequent alcohol use; they discussed people, places, and objects that affected the situation. They were also asked to describe a neutral, relaxing event to serve as a control since relaxation does not typically lead to relapse. The researchers conducted several laboratory tests while participants were exposed to 5-minute audiotaped scripts of stress-related, alcohol-related, and neutral/relaxing scenarios. Participants were then followed up with face-to-face interviews on days 14, 30, and 90 after their session to evaluate relapse outcomes.

The researchers found that the prefrontal cortex, also known as the front part of the brain which is responsible for complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making and more, can experience hypoactivity (inhibition) in response to stressful situations. The hypothalamus, a part of the brain that is responsible for your body temperature, energy levels, and more, may also dysfunction when too much cortisol, a hormone that your body releases when its under stress, is released. This is when you may begin to experience a “fight or flight” mode and increases to your blood pressure. Lastly, findings suggested that the autonomic nervous system (ANS) may experience disturbances leading to more vulnerability when under stress.

The body’s natural response to stress-inducing situations can be neutralized through calming activities such as meditation, yoga, mindfulness, journaling, and more. When confronted with thoughts, people, places, objects, or situations that trigger you, rely on the tools you’ve learned in therapy. Seek support so that you have people who support your recovery on your side.

Simple Recovery is a world-renowned, California state-licensed substance abuse recovery center. We offer dual diagnosis treatment, so if you are experiencing both substance abuse and symptoms of a mental disorder, call us today at 888-743-0490 so that we can work with you to restore your happiness, health, and well-being. You do not have to continue living this way; there are many people here ready to help you.