Addiction is in some ways a coping mechanism. We start drinking or doing drugs as a self-soothing method, and then substance abuse changes our brains.
This is why practicing healthy coping skills is a key part of recovery. If drugs or alcohol were what you used to cope, you need to replace them with positive approaches that promote recovery.
How Can You Build Healthy Coping Skills in Addiction Recovery?
Just because you’re sober doesn’t mean all of your behaviors are healthy. Even in long-term recovery, you may find yourself slipping into unhealthy ways of coping. The first step is being aware that you’re doing it, as a lot of the time these behaviors are reflexive.
Therapy is a great way to become more self-aware, so that you can identify when you’re using unhealthy coping. It can also help you recognize and practice healthier coping skills. Cognitive behavioral therapy—which is often used in addiction treatment—is about noticing and changing negative thought patterns to change behaviors.
Your thoughts drive your actions, so it’s important to notice patterns in your thinking. Besides therapy, meditation is another great way to learn about your cognition. A meditation practice is just that: practice. The more you sit with your thoughts as they arise, the more you will learn about them and the easier it will become to tolerate difficult emotions.
One way that many people in recovery fall into unhealthy patterns is by isolating or retracting into secrecy. Even if you aren’t drinking or using again, it’s destructive to hide. It might sound counterintuitive, but when you’re feeling the urge to isolate or go into hiding, it’s a good time to reach out to someone in your life and let them know how you’re feeling. You don’t have to advertise it on billboards, but telling at least one supportive person is useful.
When you’re feeling stressed or dealing with a challenge, the way you react is informative. If it seems to make things even harder, you are probably engaging in self-destructive coping. This is okay and normal; remember that it is an opportunity to learn. Feeling bad about it can cause a negative cycle of shame and continued use of the destructive coping mechanism.
Instead, think of what has helped you feel centered or at home in yourself in the past. You could exercise. You could reach out to a friend. Journaling is always a great option. Engaging in enriching hobbies or being of service can help you feel connected to the world. We’ve listed ways to be of service during the COVID-19 pandemic here and ways to be of service in the fight for racial justice here.
If you notice yourself engaging in unhealthy behaviors, it’s okay. You can start practicing healthy coping skills at any time.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help and hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you build the healthy coping skills to thrive in long-term recovery. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.