Substance abuse can begin in many ways. Often, it is a coping mechanism for negative emotions. But when used habitually, even mild forms of substance abuse can become an addiction. When this happens, the resulting dependence on drugs or alcohol is often severe, even life-threatening.
In substance abuse treatment and psychology, we refer to addiction as an impairment of choice. This means that the person suffering from addiction has a reduced ability to make the healthy choice to abstain. Addiction is not a moral deficiency; those suffering from it need and deserve help.
Expecting an addicted person to abstain is like trying to run a program on Windows that only works on Mac OS. The necessary equipment is simply not there. The addicted person needs support and treatment to develop the ability to say no to their drug of choice. Many fine, upstanding, and intelligent people of good character suffer from addiction.
In addiction medicine, we learn that self-control is a limited resource. This is why we are more likely to indulge in comfort food or alcohol after a long day’s work when grieving or stressed. This means those struggling to overcome addiction need support from within and without.
One of the best ways to help those suffering from addiction is to impart proven coping skills for substance abuse.
Developing Coping Skills in Substance Abuse Recovery
As mentioned, any stressor will make a person less able to exert self-control. For those suffering from addiction, the mere effort to break free from substance abuse is enough to trigger a stress response, making relapse more likely. This is why it is so important to develop coping skills in recovery. The following are just a few examples of proven coping skills substance abuse sufferers can learn to make a recovery more manageable.
- Think Before Reacting
In all of us, the reactive parts of our brains process information much more quickly than the parts responsible for higher rationality. This is because reactionary responses are simpler and more survival-oriented. That’s why it’s so important for everyone to think before reacting, not only those needing addiction coping skills.
Far from a quirky spiritual habit, meditation is a proven way to develop more neurological flexibility, greater self-control, and especially the useful habit of thinking before reacting. Meditation has been proven in many studies to improve self-control and quality of life. For many people coping with addiction, meditation has been a godsend.
- Stay Busy
While being busy can be a double-edged sword, staying happily productive is key to avoiding ideation leading to substance abuse. Being overly busy is a stressor that can reduce self-control, but when approached carefully, staying busy is among the most practical coping mechanisms for addiction.
- Make Healthy Choices
While it might seem like a contradiction in terms for those in need of coping skills for substance abuse, eating right and getting plenty of sleep are critical for maintaining that precious self-control resource. When we feel better, we are more likely to make better choices.
An extension of the above-mentioned tip for developing coping skills in recovery, having better muscle tone and endurance will naturally make you feel better, have more energy, and be less likely to succumb to temptation. Regular exercise is one of the most important coping skills substance abuse sufferers can have.
- Write a Journal
Keeping track of your thoughts and experiences is one of the most powerful addiction coping skills you can have. You’ll develop insights you would not otherwise, and it’s an excellent addition to a meditative practice.
- Talk Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of many powerful coping skills for substance abuse we can heartily recommend. It is evidence-based and makes common sense that talking can help.
- Build a Support Network
One of the most important coping mechanisms for addiction is knowing who to lean on for support and when. Choosing the right friends is key, and having the courage to open up is critical, albeit sometimes difficult. That’s why we have the next item on our list.
- Go to Meetings
Going to addiction recovery support meetings is among the proven indispensable coping mechanisms for addiction. Coping with addiction by yourself is never recommended.
- Give Thanks
Some would argue that practicing gratitude is the best and most important of all the known coping skills for substance abuse. Take the time each day to remember the things that you love and are most grateful for. Just think of them and let the feeling of gratitude wash over you.
Of course, these are just a few ways we can all learn to deal with stress, especially when coping with addiction. Everyone can benefit from some of these addiction coping skills. But the addiction sufferer needs even more support than most. That’s why attending AA or NA meetings is recommended when coping with addiction.