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Coping Tactics when Recovering from Drug and Alcohol Addiction

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Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV.

Coping Tactics when Recovering from Drug and Alcohol Addiction
When dealing with substance abuse or alcohol addiction, it is important to remember that coping tactics aren’t always what they seem. Some are beneficial and will actively aid your recovery from drug abuse. Some will feel helpful, but others won’t. Some will ultimately leave you worse off than you were, to begin with.
When you check yourself into rehab, go to your doctor regarding your addictions, or otherwise seek to get yourself help for alcohol misuse – the last thing you want is to encounter setbacks. For this purpose, we put together this guide to navigating the hazardous world of coping tactics.

Coping Tactics and Recovery

Drug and alcohol recovery needs as clear a path as possible to succeed. With this in mind, we have put together some healthy coping tactics, and some unhealthy coping tactics, all with the aim of helping you come off drugs. In general, coping tactics are either helpful in one of two ways. They can benefit you physically, and they can benefit you emotionally. Unhealthy coping tactics can see us to fall back into the habits we are seeking to avoid. We will talk about how you can get rid of unhealthy coping tactics for addiction, a little later on. If you are interested, you can read the scientific study into the links between coping strategies and treatment outcomes, here. First, let’s examine a few healthy coping tactics and look at what makes them positive.

Healthy Coping Tactics

A healthy coping tactic is something you can do to help assuage the symptoms of drug or alcohol withdrawal that has no negative effects. This means that any range of exercises can be classed as a healthy coping mechanism. In addition, we can count any self-care activities as ways to help ourselves cope. Some healthy and positive coping tactics for drug addictions include:
  • Walking – Going for a brisk walk in nature can help you to stave off cravings. Exercise is a good way to fight addiction because it releases small amounts of happy chemicals (like serotonin and dopamine) into the brain. This is a similar feeling of ‘reward’ to what you might get in the throes of addiction. In this instance, you are replacing the rewarding feeling of getting high, with the rewarding feeling of healthy exercise!
  • Journal – writing about your problems, addiction issues, or even day-to-day struggles is a very helpful coping tactic for addiction. The beauty of this idea is that you can look back over how far you have come whenever you need the inspiration to keep going. It is a huge part of learning from your experiences in order to make progress.
  • Turn to your kids or a pet – investing your nervous energy in your family is always a good idea. The positive relationships that you reinforce remind you of the reasons why you are quitting. They give you the drive to keep going. A pet is slightly different. Taking care of a pet reminds you that you are their whole world. It can be a huge benefit to have something to care for, particularly if you are battling addiction or substance abuse alone. A dog will have the double benefit of ensuring you get out of the house at least once a day.
  • Self-care – You may have read about self-care recently and been confused by the idea. Self-care is any relaxing, soothing, rewarding activity that you do to take care of yourself and, in the case of an addict, to stave off the cravings. Self-care activities include everything from going for a long, hot, bath, to looking through old holiday photos and remembering fondly. Be careful though… of all the positive coping tactics, self-care is the one most likely to lead you back to bad habits. If your addiction is to alcohol, then avoid taking yourself to the pub or for a nice meal as self-care. Do not put yourself in dangerous situations that are likely to trigger your old habits.

Coping Tactics to Avoid

Just as there are healthy coping tactics that can help you get off alcohol or drugs; there are those that risk throwing you back into the vicious cycles of abuse. Here are some unhealthy coping tactics and a little explanation as to why they are bad choices:
  • Alcohol and drugs – whatever your addiction was, do not trade it for another. Alcohol and drugs are two of the worst coping tactics as they have the ability to undo all of the good work you have done so far. Avoid them at all costs.
  • Going to bed – sleeping all the time is tempting because when you are asleep the cravings stop for a while. However, sleeping too much is unhealthy. It slows the metabolism, can trigger depression and is seriously bad for your outlook on life. Get out there and remember the things that are worth living for every time you are tempted to do this.
  • Overindulgence – shopping too much, eating too much, spending too much to make yourself feel better… any activity that makes you feel like you don’t care anymore. If you reach the point of satiation; stop. Don’t go any further. Switch activity as this is a dangerous mindset. It may lead to swapping one addiction for another if you keep it up.

Recognising Coping Tactics

Although there are healthy and unhealthy ways of coping with addiction, it can sometimes be difficult for you to tell the difference between the two. In order to place yourself in a position to tell the difference between the two, here are a few questions you can ask yourself:
  1. Will the activity you want to do place you in danger from triggers? If so, the coping mechanism you are about to try is unhealthy.
  2. Are you able to walk away from the activity? If so, you are probably safe.
  3. Does it help you form bonds, improve your situation, or stay out of trouble? If so, this is a good sign of a healthy coping tactic.

Further advice

Keep an eye on your mental health. Your state of mind plays a large part in how well your recovery is going. You may find that one day going out for lunch doesn’t put you in danger from your alcohol addiction – but until that day it is best to play it safe. Another key thing to watch out for is avoidance. This is a classic negative coping mechanism that can see you avoid leaving the house, avoiding your friends and family and even avoiding the issues at hand. If you can avoid admitting an addiction then you don’t need treatment for it… you can see how this is a slippery slope.

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