Substance abuse affects people of all ages from all walks of life — and while 10 percent of U.S. adults have drug use disorder at some point in their lives, 75 percent do not receive any form of treatment.

Addiction is a brain disease, one that is closely linked to poor trauma and poor mental health. Although each individual is unique, many addicts begin using substances as a coping mechanism for difficult emotions, stress, and physical conditions. Both drugs and alcohol can provide a temporary escape from everyday life, and sadly, these compulsions can quickly turn into destructive habits.

Over time, addiction begins to physically change the brain, impacting the production and transmission of brain chemicals. For example, serotonin and dopamine influence everything from motivation to pleasure, reward processing to learning, resulting in a vicious cycle of abuse. The addiction itself becomes a coping mechanism, making it more and more challenging to achieve sobriety — especially without professional assistance.

The Relationship Between Addiction, Mental Health, and Coping Skills

The sad reality is that mental health disorders and addiction typically co-occur. It is estimated that between a third to one-half of individuals living with a mental health disorder also struggle with addiction and vice versa. Many individuals turn to substances of abuse to cope with physical and emotional ailments. However, the withdrawal symptoms that develop actually make these conditions worse — particularly depression, anxiety, and sleep difficulties. While drugs and alcohol feel like an ideal short-term solution, over time, this coping mechanism not only exacerbates mental health disorders but also complicates treatment.

Stress and trauma also play a significant role in the development of addiction. Stress creates a “fight-or-flight” response that in certain circumstances, can be detrimental to one’s health. Those who have struggled with addiction in the past also face a risk of relapse when feelings of chronic stress and trauma are not addressed. That is why individuals in treatment must address their personal triggers in order to overcome compulsive behaviors that fuel their addiction.

For some, their triggers are emotional (i.e. frustration, fear, anxiety, or depression), while others need to address environmental triggers (i.e. certain people or places, being around alcohol, attending parties, etc.).

Healthy Coping Skills for Substance Abuse

Restoring optimal balance in the brain to create healthier coping skills often requires professional help. This is especially true when dealing with a dual-diagnosis, as treatment is complex. When you participate in an addiction treatment program, you will gain access to evidence-based therapies, support, and alternative treatments (i.e. nutrition support).

When you enter addiction treatment, you will be taught methods to better manage your personal cravings and triggers. From mindfulness meditation to journaling, exercise to positive reframing, there are many healthy alternatives to substance abuse when it comes to effective coping mechanisms.

On a personal level, healthy types coping skills can include:

Emotional Awareness- Oftentimes, when someone is dealing with emotions that are too much to bear, they resort to drugs or alcohol to numb their feelings. This is the opposite of what we want to be doing, however. During emotional awareness, we want to identify and express our feelings in a healthy and helpful way. This can mean writing out a list of your emotions in a journal or drawing how you are feeling in a sketchbook. Emotional awareness is just what it sounds like — being aware of our emotions and accepting them.  

Distracting Yourself- Distracting yourself during an emotional time can be an effective way to stay away from drugs or alcohol when you are feeling like you need them. During a distraction, you are just taking your mind off of the problem for a little while. You’re creating some space between yourself and your need to use. Distracting yourself can be with books, music, crafts, puzzles, music, or movies. There are so many different things you can do. Grab your favorite book and lose yourself in it. Turn on your favorite movie and lose yourself in that, too. Use what you love to help you get through a difficult time. 

Opposite Action- During opposite action activities, you are doing something that is the complete opposite of what you want or feels like you need to be doing. For individuals with an addiction, using in order to suppress your feelings is a negative action. With the opposite action technique, you are doing something positive in its place. You can look up motivational quotes and write them down on sticky notes and place them around your home. Or, you can watch something funny on television because that is probably the opposite of what you’d like to be doing. Give yourself a little push. Opposite action takes time, but it is shown to be an effective way to cope. 

Self-soothing- Self-soothing is a way to cope by connecting with yourself and your senses. You are able to soothe yourself by doing something that activates one or more of your senses. This can be playing with your pet to activate your sense of touch. Or, you can put on music that you love. You can watch a show or movie that you enjoy, too. You can eat your favorite piece of chocolate to help soothe you. Or, you can light a candle you like to activate your sense of smell. The possibilities are endless when it comes to self-soothing.

Developing Coping Skills in Recovery — The Benefits of CBT

Although you will learn many healthy coping skills in treatment, you will also be presented with unique opportunities to learn more about yourself and your addiction. At Pinnacle Recovery, we understand that you are a unique individual with unique needs.

To help you better cope with your addiction, we will work with you to understand the underlying cause of your addiction. What is it that initially drove you to abuse substances? Was it specific emotions? Situations? Traumas? Once you can answer this question, you can then begin to learn coping skills that allow you to handle stressors in a healthier manner. Long-term, this will help you maintain positive mental health and significantly reduce your risk of relapse.

One of the leading addiction treatment methods we offer at Pinnacle is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This short-term, goal-oriented form of psychotherapy is offered in both outpatient and inpatient programs. CBT helps you uncover the negative thought patterns that influence your drug use and diminishing mental health. The ultimate goal of this therapy is to help you address negative thoughts and feelings so that you can develop healthier alternative reactions.

The coping skills that you learn in this addiction therapy can be used throughout your recovery journey and life. Whenever you face a stressful day, these coping skills will help you more easily navigate your road to recovery.

Related: What Are the Three Pillars of CBT?

Although CBT is one of the more common therapy options, and is highly successful, at Pinnacle Recovery, we offer a range of treatment options. This ensures that each individual receives the specialized care they need to succeed and thrive.

Get Help Today — Pinnacle Recovery Can Help

Regardless of your current situation, if you’re ready to seek the help you deserve, Pinnacle Recovery can help. Our treatment facility was founded by professionals with decades of combined experience. We provide refuge to those in need of healing.

To help our clients develop healthier coping skills, we encourage them to attend regular therapy sessions and support meetings. Each individual’s treatment plan focuses on their unique needs and circumstances. While some individuals find that exercise helps them cope, others find refuge in meditation. We help our clients explore what works best for them in terms of developing coping mechanisms that reduce stress, anxiety, and the risk of relapse.

If you’re ready to take the next step, we’re here for you. Whether you or your loved one are in need of treatment, our team is waiting to assist you. Contact us today!