Healthy Coping Skills in Addiction Recovery

Recovery from substance use disorder is a journey of personal growth, learning, and developing skills to cope with the risk of relapse that comes at any stage of recovery. We know addiction is not a curable disease, and there is always a risk of relapse. However, having the healthy coping skills to handle difficult times or situations is highly important to maintaining sobriety. You don’t recover from an addiction by stopping using. You recover by creating a new life where it is easier to not use. If you don’t create a new life, then all the factors that brought you to your addiction will eventually catch up with you again. Today we will take a look at the healthy coping skills needed to continue to prevent a drug relapse for life. 

healthy coping skills

Why is Relapse So Common?

Many would agree that rehab from substance abuse and addiction is a step in the right direction. But while there are a plethora of benefits to rehab and sobriety, people still wonder why do addicts relapse when things are good. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 40 and 60 percent of people recovering from drug addiction relapse. A number of factors can increase the likelihood of relapse, including succumbing to triggers or failing to seek aftercare services upon completion of addiction treatment.

Relapse Triggers 

Triggers are thoughts, feelings, sensations, situations and relationships that cause someone to drink or use drugs after a period of abstinence. For example, driving past a familiar drinking establishment, such as a bar or restaurant, may generate cravings in some people in recovery.

Triggers can arise when people feel sad or attend a social function where alcohol is available. Other triggers include stress, lack of sleep and various physical illnesses. Communicating with individuals who engage in substance abuse is a common trigger for individuals in recovery. Friends who do drugs or drink heavily might also pressure people to engage in substance use after addiction treatment.

What Comes After Relapse?

When a person relapses, it indicates a need for treatment: either a revision in their treatment plan, a re-engagement with treatment after stopping, or a new treatment approach altogether. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, a good treatment program will evolve with an individual. Everyone in recovery has changing needs, and healthy coping skills should be assessed continually (and modified as needed) to meet those as they arise. When a person relapses, it indicates that something has changed and that treatment should be reassessed to meet the current needs of the individual.

Healthy Coping Skills 

Now that you know why addicts relapse, it’s important to understand how to deal with your tendencies to relapse. No matter how long you’ve stayed sober or how well you’re doing with the program, there will always be the risk of relapsing. But that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Addiction recovery is an ongoing journey where you’ll meet all kinds of hiccups and triumphs.

Learn to Relax in Any Situation

Relaxation and stress relief are two of the main reasons people start using drugs and alcohol. But if you learn to ease tension on your own, you won’t need to rely on substances like drugs and alcohol to help you calm down. Fortunately, therapeutic practices like cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy can teach you techniques that can help you stay centered in all types of situations. 

As you develop and master new healthy coping skills, you may find it easier to overcome addiction challenges and maintain long-term sobriety. Some common ways to lessen stress include:

  • Deep breathing
  • Walking
  • Getting outside and enjoying nature
  • Laughing
  • Listening to music
  • A warm bath
  • Yoga
  • Drinking green or herbal tea
  • Reading
  • Writing or making a list of things that bring you joy

Avoid High-Risk Situations

Some common high-risk situations are described by the acronym, HALT:

  • Hungry
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Tired

How do you feel at the end of the day? You’re probably hungry because you haven’t eaten well. You’re probably angry because you’ve had a tough day at work or a tough commute home. You may feel lonely because you’re isolated. You don’t have to be physically alone to feel lonely. And you’re tired. That’s why your strongest cravings usually occur at the end of the day. 

Here’s another way of looking at high-risk situations for healthy coping skills:

  • People. (People who you use with or who are related to your use. People who you have conflicts with, and who make you want to use. People who you celebrate with by using. People who encourage you to use either directly or indirectly.)
  • Places. (Places where you use or where you get your drugs or alcohol.)
  • Things. (Things that remind you of your using.)

Keeping Busy as Healthy Coping Skills

In the past, you likely spent your time seeking out, using, or recovering from drugs. Now, you have to replace those old actions with positive ones. Check things off of your to-do list. Do things you’ve been putting off. Changing your life patterns in recovery might leave you with some extra time. You understand the importance of staying busy as healthy coping skills, but perhaps activities and people in your previous chapter no longer support your sobriety choices. 

So now what? Remember: there’s a wide, wonderful world to enjoy, and you can opt to be part of many different aspects of it. By creating meaningful routines and rituals, you’re in control over how each day progresses. There are many ways people in recovery make the most of their new paths in life. Some might be more obvious than others, but all have a level of importance as long as they matter to you. 

Journaling Through Recovery

Writing down your thoughts and emotions can create a sense of freedom and release. Recovery journaling is an important process that can promote healing. This process allows you the freedom to express your joys, sorrows, and frustrations. There is no pressure and no judgment of what you write about.

Journaling – either on paper or digitally – can help you deal with the stress and anxiety that you may feel during addiction recovery. As a healthy coping skill, it is a therapeutic way to deal with emotions or events. The events may have happened in your past, or it may be current events or future events that you are concerned about.

Simple Journaling Prompts

When the words to start a journal entry just won’t come to mind there are many prompts to encourage you. Here are some examples:

  • Dear past me …
  • Dear present me …
  • Dear future me …
  • What makes you smile? Write down 10 things that make you smile.
  • What I wish others knew about me is …
  • My short-term goals are …
  • My long-term goals are …
  • Write a goodbye letter to someone who you want to remove from your life during your recovery process.
  • What are three things you do better than most people?
  • Write down one of your favorite memories.

Healthy Coping Skills – Build a Sober Support Network

You shouldn’t be alone as you recover from addiction. Peer support is essential. Don’t hesitate to build a healthy, supportive, and sober network of people. A strong network of friends can help you stay on track and will be there to catch you when you fall. Take advantage of the social skills you learn in addiction treatment and be open to new relationships that will support your recovery journey.

Helping You Develop Healthy Skills Coping During Long-Term Sobriety

Understanding triggers and how they impact the relapse process can help you avoid returning to addiction. It is important to know that relapse occurs. But it is not a sign of failure or reason to give up on a life in sobriety. If you are implementing your learned healthy coping skills to prevent relapse, but are still struggling, it may be a good time to reach out to our team at Little Creek Lodge. We teach mindfulness techniques, life skills, and other effective coping strategies which you can apply after you’ve completed rehab. 

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