One of the four tenets of relapse prevention after addiction treatment is to develop healthy coping skills. Learning ways to deal with stress, underlying mental health symptoms, and negative emotions is crucial, as some experts believe people use substances as a maladaptive way to cope. Picking up new, healthier coping skills for addiction is something people learn in therapy. Today, we want to give individuals and their loved ones a glimpse of the activities and habits therapists help people with addictions cultivate during recovery. Read on to learn the top 15 ways to cope that do not involve turning to drugs, alcohol, or addictive behaviours.
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Coping Skills for Addiction
Coping skills are essential to staying sober after rehab. They help people in recovery avoid or deal with triggers and cravings that may lead to relapse.
As an added benefit, positive coping skills are excellent for overall well-being. They promote holistic health, a healthy physical body, mind, and spirit.
What are the best coping skills to cultivate during recovery from drug or alcohol addiction? Here are the 15 top skills people learn in addiction counselling supported by addiction recovery research.
1. Learn to Relax in Any Situation
Stress is bad for all aspects of human health. It can impact someone’s ability to concentrate, elevate blood pressure, and contribute to inflammation. In the long term, stress can increase the risk of chronic health conditions, digestive symptoms, and mental health disorders.
Addiction and stress are also linked. Stress can make someone more likely to start abusing substances in the first place. Or it can be a trigger for relapse after someone undergoes treatment.
Learning to relax in stressful situations may help reduce the risk of relapse. Get started with the following grounding techniques.
Grounding Techniques for Relaxation
Grounding teaches people to relax, stay centred, and focus on the present moment. Some of the best grounding techniques to try include:
- Doing deep breathing exercises
- Walking, stretching, or doing light exercise
- Reciting affirmations
- Gratitude journaling
- Identifying one’s sensory experiences
- Taking a warm bath
- Listening to music
- Spending time in nature
Practicing these activities when stressed or triggered can help people feel less overwhelmed and calm down. Grounding techniques are also helpful for people who are triggered by intrusive traumatic memories.
2. Wait to Respond
Impulsivity is a hallmark of substance use disorders. People with addictions may be more likely to react without thinking or fail to inhibit maladaptive responses. These behaviours happen due to the effects of drugs and alcohol on an area of the brain known for regulating impulse control.
Acting impulsively can be a reason for the interpersonal struggles common to people with addictions. These interpersonal issues are painful and may even trigger someone to relapse.
Preventing this problem is as simple as taking a breath and waiting to respond when angry, irritable, or triggered. Thinking before acting can help people in recovery react to situations with a more logical approach, preventing interpersonal issues and retaking control of their lives.
3. Playing the Tape Through
‘Playing the tape through’ is a technique taught in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It is another helpful way to regulate one’s impulses, even when they may have been dysregulated by substance abuse.
This technique is particularly useful for people with addictions dealing with cravings. Drug or alcohol cravings are one of the main diagnostic criteria for substance use disorders. The severity of someone’s cravings also has clinical significance for predicting treatment outcomes.
When someone experiences a craving, this CBT technique teaches them to stop and remember their motivation for getting sober. Play out the potential negative consequences of relapsing, and the craving will likely pass.
4. Be Honest With Yourself and Others
Lying is a common habit of people with substance use disorders. They may lie about their drug use to avoid confrontation or treatment. Or they may lie to obtain the time or money needed to use.
After treatment, people must learn to be honest about their addiction. They must be honest with others but also with themselves about their potential to relapse and what should happen if they do.
Honestly expressing feelings and emotions towards others and oneself is also a helpful skill for improving interpersonal relationships. It can be the first step toward building trust and mending broken friendships and romantic relationships.
5. Recognize the HALT Symptoms
HALT is an acronym for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. It is a helpful way to remember four common triggers of drug or alcohol cravings. If someone experiences a craving, they should check for these symptoms.
Coping with addiction HALT symptoms may reduce cravings. For example, someone who feels a craving because they are hungry can eat a nutritious meal. Someone who feels a craving because they are lonely can seek support from loved ones.
Understanding how HALT affects an individual’s cravings can also help with prevention. The person can avoid situations that bring about these triggers and potentially reduce their risk of relapse.
6. Manage Triggers
Stress, hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness are not the only triggers of cravings to watch out for. The following are also common triggers for relapse after treatment:
- Being around people, places, and paraphernalia that remind the person of their addiction
- Seeing the person’s substance of choice
- Attending celebrations, such as holiday gatherings and birthdays
Preparing a plan of action ahead of time can help people manage these triggering situations. Share the plan with a friend, family member, or partner for support and accountability.
Negative emotions aside from anger may also trigger the desire to use substances. Practising mindfulness, journaling, or exercising are excellent coping mechanisms for managing these challenging feelings.
7. Do Activities You Enjoy
Addiction hijacks the brain’s reward centre, releasing large amounts of a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine regulates the feeling of pleasure. As someone continues to abuse drugs or alcohol, the brain can become resistant to dopamine’s effects.
People with substance use disorders may be more prone to boredom after treatment for this reason. Boredom can then trigger cravings. When this happens, people can turn to activities they enjoy instead of drugs, alcohol, and addictive behaviours.
Healthy hobbies like gardening, doing arts and crafts, cooking, baking, or woodworking are stimulating activities to consider. Going for a walk or spending time with loved ones can also help curb boredom-related cravings.
8. Exercise Regularly and Live an Active Lifestyle
Exercise is similar to addictive substances because it activates the brain’s reward system. As such, regular cardiovascular exercise and resistance training can be useful for people in recovery.
Dozens of studies have looked into the benefits of exercise for addiction recovery. Researchers have found that physical activity may ease withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, improve sleep, and boost self-esteem.
Living an active lifestyle is also recommended for good health in general. It is recommended that Canadian adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. Children and youths should get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily.
9. Keep a Daily Journal and Gratitude List
Journaling is a type of mindfulness that encourages people to focus on the present moment. Research shows that daily journaling can help with stress, general well-being, managing negative emotions, and making plans.
Experts recommend starting slow with journaling. Begin with available tools, such as a note-taking application or a simple pen and paper. Don’t worry about spelling or proper grammar; just focus on writing.
People who struggle with coming up with something to write can try prompts. Journal prompts offer a topic to write on and can provide more structure. There are addiction recovery journal prompts available to get started. Keeping a daily journal and gratitude list can be one of the most powerful coping skills for addiction.
10. Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation are relaxation techniques that can enable emotional regulation, stress reduction, and addiction recovery. Specifically, studies have shown these practices to be beneficial for relapse prevention.
A review of 54 clinical trials investigated the effects of mindfulness-based interventions on people in recovery from addiction. The review found that mindfulness improved cravings, pain, quality of life, depression, and anxiety in people recovering from addiction.
There are many types of mindfulness to try. Focused attention and open monitoring are approaches commonly used for people with addictions. These practices promote a non-judgmental and non-reactive awareness of one’s surroundings, emotions, and thoughts.
11. Keep Busy and Distract Yourself from Cravings
People with addictions spend countless hours per day obtaining, using, and overcoming the effects of substances. Getting sober may free up a ton of extra time.
Staying busy is crucial during recovery. Finding new hobbies and activities to fill one’s schedule with will prevent boredom, which we already mentioned is a trigger for cravings and, potentially, relapse.
People can distract themselves with many of the activities we’ve mentioned, including journaling, exercising, and trying new hobbies. Learning new things, such as an unfamiliar language or instrument, can also benefit people in recovery.
12. Implementing a Healthy Sleep Routine
Drug and alcohol use disrupts someone’s quantity and quality of sleep. The more severe the addiction grows, the more intense the sleep disruption becomes. Sleeplessness is also a symptom of withdrawal.
Yet, addiction’s relationship to sleep goes both ways. Getting poor sleep can hinder recovery from addiction. The brain consolidates new learning and memories while sleeping, both of which are required for someone to learn new habits after recovery.
Creating a healthy sleep routine is an excellent tool for recovery. Canadian guidelines recommend adults get 7 to 9 hours of high-quality sleep each night. Older adults should get at least 7 or 8 hours of sleep per night.
13. Practising Self Care
Self-care has been a hot buzzword over the past few years, but it may not be what most people think. Self-care is not over-indulging in luxury accessories or expensive skin care products. Instead, it is doing good things for one’s mental wellness and physical health.
Self-care is an essential tool for anyone recovering from addiction. It can help people cope with stress and negative feelings better, boost self-esteem, and improve emotional resilience.
Some examples of healthy self-care habits include practising good oral health, attending annual doctor’s appointments, and caring for one’s hygiene. Self-care also means reaching out to a mental health professional when needing support for psychological symptoms like anxiety and depression.
14. Build a Sober Support Network
Studies have shown that the presence of healthy social support after treatment for a substance use disorder can improve outcomes. One review found that social support can reduce substance use, promote treatment engagement, prevent cravings, and foster self-efficacy.
Importantly, not all types of support are equal. Recovering addicts must surround themselves with people who support their abstinence goals and will hold them accountable should they relapse.
Those who do not have access to a healthy support system at home can join a 12-step group. 12-step groups like Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous allow individuals in recovery to get advice and assistance from others who are on the same journey.
15. Help Others
Helping others has long been a secret to better health and perhaps even a longer life. Acts of kindness are linked to chronic inflammation, which is a culprit in the world’s top causes of death.
Volunteering and doing charity work are great ways to take advantage of these benefits. Even being more helpful towards loved ones and family members can impact levels of inflammation.
People in recovery from addiction can boost their self-esteem and resilience through good acts. One of the best ways to help others is to become a sponsor or even a counsellor, helping other people with addictions start their journey to recovery.
Learn Coping Skills in Addiction Treatment
These 15 coping skills can make the difference between relapse and long-term recovery for people suffering from substance use disorders. They can combat cravings, mitigate triggers, and improve the quality of life in people with addictions.
Are you or a loved one searching for ways to cope with life instead of using alcohol or drugs? Simcoe Addiction and Mental Health is a treatment centre in Ontario. We offer counselling services to build coping skills for addiction.
Contact Simcoe to learn more about addiction counselling and other treatment programs to consider on your journey to recovery.