Coping Strategies for Substance Use

June 10, 2020
Coping Strategies for Substance Use

As we talk about substance use many terms come to mind. As I conduct groups for substance use and talk about ways of overcoming use we come across the term coping skills. A coping skill to be an action -to deal with stress, problems, or uncomfortable emotions. Unhealthy coping strategies tend to feel good in the moment, but have long-term negative consequences that can take a toll on our physical and mental health as well as in relationships and work. Healthy coping strategies may not provide instant gratification and may take more work, but they lead to long-lasting positive outcomes.


Social Support 

One of the most beneficial things in recovery is having a support system. Few things are as powerful as having a supportive person you can count on in times of need. Just knowing that friends, family, or even a fellow group member or sponsor are there for you can make a huge difference.

There is a great benefit to having someone to call in times of crisis or need. People who have strong relationships are me resilient when facing life's obstacles, and more likely to beat addiction and tend to have overall better mental health. Make a point to strengthen your relationships, attend support groups, and build new friendships. Make sure that putting your sobriety first is the goal as finding who are sober and are willing to maintain sobriety around you as having those triggers can make it more difficult.

When in crisis it is helpful to have a person you can count on for support, someone who you can call that can help you through the situation you are facing. Make a list of people you can contact during these situations and how to best reach them. Sponsors are great at understanding crises and helping through it. A mental health professional can be a great source of support who can help in creating relapse prevention plans as well as a plan for support. You can meet sponsors by attending AA and NA meetings which are now available online!


Find Diversion

Cravings can be difficult to manage as they come like a strong wave and can last for some time. It has been determined that an average craving will last about an hour. Try to find something to do to distract yourself when faced with cravings to be able to avoid the thought of using and possible relapse. Below you can find a list of diversions that can help:

  • Go for a walk around the block
  • Try an exercise class online 
  • Call someone 
  • Read a book
  • Practice a hobby
  • Draw or paint
  • Write a journal
  • Take a warm bath

Avoid people, places and things

Avoid waiting until you are in a bad situation to figure out a way to get out. Try to foresee some of the people, places and things that could trigger your substance use and if you make a plan to avoid it. If you can’t avoid it make a plan to escape when you feel uncountable or triggered. 


Healthy Lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle can make you more resilient when faced with obstacles. Focus on creating a routine in your life where all of your needs are met. Make sure you are getting enough sleep and setting a sleep routine as well as having good eating habits. Getting your body moving for at least 30 minutes a day can be extremely beneficial. Some research has shown that an exercise routine at times can be as effective as medication. 


Take care of your emotions

It is known that many times substance use comes as a way to escape uncomfortable feelings. Make sure that you are addressing your emotions and being aware of when they come up for you and use coping skills to manage them. Journaling and deep breathing can be very helpful at times when you might feel overwhelmed. 

Getting to know yourself, your emotions, and your triggers is very important to preventing relapse. The more practice you have, the easier it will become to recognize signs that can lead to relapse. Be patient with yourself and remind yourself that this is a process that can have it’s ups and downs but will be worth it at the end!


Andrea Baskin, MS, LMHC