We all face challenging moments in our lives. Luckily, most of us find a way to get through these difficult moments and make peace with the outcome. When we’re recovering from addiction, however, our mental, emotional, and physical ability to cope with stress and grief may be lower than normal. This is especially true if we’ve relied on drugs or alcohol as a way to manage unpleasant emotions in the past.
This is why choosing a treatment program that includes coping skills training is so important. Re-learning how to deal with life’s tough times without drugs and alcohol is critical for long-term sobriety. In this article, we’ll explore why coping skills are so crucial for recovery.
What Are Coping Skills?
When we go through traumatic moments in our lives, we must use the skills we’ve learned in our lives to find healthy outlets for our stress and anxiety. These behaviors are known as coping skills. They help us manage the most challenging moments of our lives, including the loss of loved ones, financial difficulties, relationship break-ups, and more.
Healthy coping skills can teach us how to emerge on the other side of a difficult situation without allowing stress, anxiety, depression, or sadness to overwhelm us. Some of the most common coping skills include:
- Turning to loved ones, friends, and colleagues for help and guidance during difficult times
- Finding positive (or at least tolerable) moments within tragic or negative circumstances
- Working with a therapist, HR professional, or other counselors to find ways to manage stressful periods of time in our work or personal lives
- Using a healthy outlet for stress, such as exercise, meditation, hobbies, or time with friends, to temporarily relieve emotional pressure
- Learning how to be less self-critical, judgmental, or negative and forgive yourself when you fall short of your expectations
- Making time for yourself, especially during highly stressful moments when you need to be there for others
This article from the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior has further examples of coping skills.
In general, coping skills are useful behaviors that can help us navigate through even the toughest situations. That’s why it’s so important to develop and strengthen these skills throughout our lifetime.
Why People in Recovery Need to Re-Learn Coping Skills
While most coping skills involve using healthy behaviors to reduce stress, not all ways of coping with challenges are healthy. In fact, many people who develop substance use disorder use addictive substances as a form of coping, as well.
A 2008 study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences found that using drugs or alcohol is often “a coping strategy to deal with stress, to reduce tension, to self medicate, and to decrease withdrawal-related distress.” Additionally, the study found that chronic stress may activate pathways in the brain that promote the use of addictive substances that release high levels of the “feel good” chemical dopamine.
Negative or harmful coping strategies can take many different forms. These can include:
- Using addictive substances to manage stressful or distressing emotions and situations
- Avoiding bigger problems or challenges by using addictive substances or other harmful behaviors
- Refusing to admit situations are difficult or challenging or that specific individuals have problems they need to solve
For individuals who are struggling with substance use challenges, learning new methods for coping with stress is vital to breaking this cycle. Research studies, including one study of individuals with substance use disorders in Latvia, have found that learning different coping skills is important to long-term recovery. Among the coping skills, researchers found were most effective include getting support from others and changing your everyday environment.
How Individuals Re-Learn Coping Skills in Addiction Treatment
The process for strengthening and practicing coping skills takes place inside the structure and stability of a treatment program. This allows individuals in recovery to take small steps towards managing outside stress without the pressure of re-entering the real world alone.
Many treatment programs, including Into Action, incorporate coping skills training into our process. Additionally, 12-step-based treatment programs like ours often include a strong community-based component, whether that’s through a formal group like Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous or simply through fellow program participants. Finding strength and support in numbers is a powerful way to enhance coping skills alongside others who are on a similar recovery journey.
If you’re interested in learning more about coping skills training and how it can help you in your recovery, please reach out to the Into Action team. We are eager to help you move forward in your recovery journey and better prepare yourself for a sober, fulfilling life.