Substance abuse and addiction arise from many things, the specifics varying from individual to individual, however, one predominant characteristic of a drug and alcohol addiction is that it originated in part from a person’s attempt to cope with some aspect of their life.
As a person becomes overwhelmed with life’s struggles—the loss of a job, a failing marriage, physical health concerns, increasing amounts of stress, emotional instability or co-occurring mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression, they may begin self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. Gradually this pattern of abuse accelerates into a more compulsive realm, and an addiction is borne.
The Benefit Of Developing A Multi-Faceted Approach
While it may seem intimidating to see the number of strategies that follow, instead, consider the contrary—it should be liberating—here exists the power to take greater control over your life, health and happiness. You don’t have to practice all of them or try to utilize them all at the same time. Recovery takes a varied path for each person, hence, the combination of coping skills that bring the greatest benefit will vary person to person.
Despite this, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with each, as over time, life experiences change, exposing you to new situations that might be challenging in different ways. You can’t anticipate every scenario, nor plan to the T how you will react or cope. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider these things, as preemptive prevention can often be the best defense.
Instead of becoming overwhelmed by these many tactics, look at these as if they are a toolkit—finely tuned instruments you carry around—should the need arise to use them, you’ll be prepared to implement them to ward off temptation and doubt.
Creating A Social Support Network
It is commonplace for a person struggling with an addiction to withdraw from healthy and engaging relationships and turn to individuals who share the same self-destructive habits or behaviors. Once you’re striving toward sobriety, or maintaining a sober life, you need to revamp your in-person social network.
Developing meaningful and supportive relationships can help to bolster your sense of belonging, self-confidence and even self-awareness. Whether it be rekindling an old relationship with a family member or friend, or establishing a new one, these positive relationships are an important part of recovery. Not only can they help to banish loneliness, but they can be a sounding board throughout your journey. These people may reflect your state back to you and express encouragement or concern should you stray from your focus, so that you remain in touch with who you are and where you’re at.
Becoming A Member Of A Support Group
Additionally, you can engage in various support groups, whether they be faith-based or secular, 12-step or non-12-step, these groups can offer you the benefit of shared experiences through the peer-to-peer support. These interactions offer greater accountability, encouragement and access to various other coping skills. These groups can also be a great place to meet new, sober friends.
Enhanced Interpersonal Skills
As we’ve noted, a person may push well-meaning family and friends away as they descend deeper into an addiction. Beyond this, your relationships may falter under the weight of the drugs or alcohol, creating tensions between you and a spouse, parent, child, friend or coworker. The caliber of your relationships and support systems can improve by learning how to establish and honor boundaries, how to react to and around these people in social situations, how to cultivate healthful ways of expressing needs and how to understand the role of healthy intimacy.
Within this, communication skills training can aid you in succinctly conveying your needs and understanding others, relating your feelings and thoughts honestly, listening more effectively and understanding the other party’s view. When you’re struggling with thoughts of drug use, you need to be able to reach out to those who care and communicate the danger you’re facing and articulate that you need help.
Spirituality or religiousness has been shown to offer great benefit to those who practice these elements both during and after substance abuse treatment. Not only are these things sources of hope, inspiration and empowerment, but they allow you a means by which to keep yourself accountable. Another beneficial aspect is that in many cases these practices will lead you to a supportive group, whether it be a church or other house of worship, a bible study or a faith-based support group.
Mindfulness practices have garnered increasing support and massive momentum within the world of addiction treatment and recovery, and are even supported by research. Too often, a person who is struggling with an addiction, or striving to manage their recovery, finds their thoughts stuck in the past or lingering too heavily in the future, in a way that detracts from the power of the present. Mindfulness encourages a person to be present in the moment. In this way, you deal with things as they come, neither berating yourself for your past behaviors nor creating an unhealthy environment of stress and expectation over the future.
When successful in doing this, you will be better able to accept your situation and access the power and skills to change it. In terms of coping skills, it allows you a moment to reaffirm your direction and pursuit of wellness, and time to empty your mind and refresh, before refocusing on your sobriety. Mindfulness has been shown to enhance self-control and temper impulsivity, two things that are of great benefit when you are striving to cope with a potential trigger. Mindfulness practices are often accompanied by yoga, and may include meditation, breathing exercises and even spending time outdoors to clear your mind.
Evaluating Your Decisions
This follows suit with mindfulness, essentially bringing your attention to your actions, in a way that observes, anticipates and evaluates what will happen if you make specific choices. Instead of blindly making a seemingly innocuous choice, you will take a step back and look to see if it has any potential for self-harm or harboring cues. In many cases, by doing so, you can avoid these negative consequences. An example would be driving down a certain street on the way to the grocery store that takes you by your old drug dealer’s house. Choosing an alternative route ahead of time would avoid the possibility of temptation that might arise from seeing their house.
Strategizing Your Behaviors
Avoiding high-risk situations is key towards protecting yourself from cues or triggers. Within recovery, there is a handy acronym “H.A.L.T.” that can help you to remember the most common mindsets that may lead to substance abuse or thoughts of relapse. This stands for Hungry, Lonely, Angry and Tired, situations that might aggravate you towards using drugs or alcohol to reduce these feelings.
If you can’t avoid a situation that makes you feel this way, say an intense day of work, be mindful or controlling of what you can. For instance, make arrangements to see a good friend on a day you know you’ll be feeling drained and lonely, that way they can help to bolster your mood and reaffirm your sober intentions.
Sometimes a difficult situation is unavoidable, and instead of being reactive (and turning to drugs or alcohol) you need to be proactive and mindfully and deliberately strategize your behaviors or actions to achieve the best and most positive outcome possible. Instead of becoming overwhelmed by the result, look to the root of the issue and see if it’s something you can change to alleviate the negative result or temptation.
Practicing Your Refusal Skills
This may seem obvious to some, and it is a very basic task, however, it is a powerful one. You cannot always shield yourself from cues and temptations. Because of this, you need to develop the confidence to be able to assert yourself and articulate the answer “no.” It may sound silly, but practicing different ways of saying “no” to drugs or alcohol, out loud, and even in the mirror, may be helpful.
Emotional Regulation Skills
Negative emotions can wreak havoc on a person, creating an imbalanced state that makes them more susceptible to drugs or alcohol. Emotional reactions are present in most situations and are something you cannot avoid; due to this, you must learn to moderate and control your reactions, being mindful to squash the negative and cultivate positive ones. However, when negative emotions do arise, you need to learn how to process them, and let them go, so you can move forward. These skills are a critical part of dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), a progressive modality that is used within Turning Point’s addiction treatment program.
Anger is an intense emotion, one that influences not only your mind, but also your physiological state. Your blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature may rise, fueling your awareness that you’re feeling out of control. Collectively, this state may lead you to consider managing these feelings by substance use.
Anger management will help you to articulate your anger in a more assertive way that is not aggressive or confrontational, thus offering you a greater opportunity to incite change and lessen the instance of a confrontation. You may also be directed towards other, healthier outlets, such as taking time away from the conversation or immersing yourself in physical activity to calm your mind and release tension.
Stress Management Skills
Stress is hugely implicated in addiction. Stress is a normal part of life, however, sometimes people are unable to properly handle it, or they encounter situations that have undue amounts of stress. By learning how to more effectively manage your stress, you reduce the opportunity for thoughts of using, and balance your emotional state to avoid further cues that could perpetuate substance use. Managing stress in a healthful way may entail counseling, exercise, family support and learning to confront issues head-on instead of letting them build and fall out of your control.
Engaging In Enjoyable Activities
When a person has an addiction, they often let activities that were once meaningful or enjoyable to them fall to the wayside, as they devote increasing amounts of time and energy to the pursuit and use of drugs or alcohol. Now is the time to reconnect with these interests, or branch out and find new hobbies or activities that can distract you and foster a sense of fulfillment, accomplishment and well-being. Various hobbies may spark your interest, including gardening, crafting, sports, reading, playing an instrument, listening to music or cooking. Volunteering is another great option, as it forces you out of your head and your own concerns by allowing you the opportunity to care for another individual or cause.
Develop Healthy Habits As An Outlet
As an addiction accelerates, a person may forget about important aspects of their self-care. They may forget about self-grooming, healthy eating and exercise. The lack of these things all contribute to a general state of disrepair and feeling unwell. To counter them, it is important that you begin to develop better habits, taking care to nurture yourself, body and mind. Good dietary choices and nutrition can help your body to repair, while also avoiding a state of hunger that can trigger thoughts of drug use. Exercising is a very powerful coping tool, as it helps take your mind off of things and releases endorphins, which are your body’s natural feel-good chemicals.
We Can Point You In The Right Direction
Whether you’re looking to become sober or are already well within your recovery journey, it is always important to stay active and invested in positive coping skills. If you’re concerned about your drug or alcohol abuse, or that you may sacrifice your hard work and progress by relapsing, contact us at Turning Point today. Our compassionate staff can offer you resources to help you further develop an arsenal of coping skills and direct you to our treatment options, should the need arise.