Starting Fresh: Developing New Coping Mechanisms in Recovery
Quitting using drugs and alcohol is only one part of addiction recovery. The other part involves developing healthy coping skills for the intense emotions and difficulties you’ll encounter. In the past, you may have turned to drugs and alcohol to deal with stress, trauma, and other life events. But in recovery, you’ll need to develop new problem-solving skills that can help manage these issues without relying on addictive substances.
This article will explore the concept of “starting fresh” in addiction recovery and the importance of developing new coping mechanisms to build a strong foundation for lasting recovery. But before we do that, let’s explore the stages of relapse.
Stages of Relapse
Relapse happens gradually. It starts weeks or months before one picks up a drink or drug. Addiction treatment aims to help patients recognize the early signs of relapse and develop healthy coping mechanisms to prevent relapse earlier when success rates are highest. With that in mind, here are the stages of relapse:
This stage involves emotional and behavioral patterns that set the stage for a relapse. The individual may not even be aware that they are heading toward relapse. In many cases, one starts by feeling sad or stressed. This causes the body to release stress hormones that trigger a cascade of negative emotions like anger, irritability, cravings, isolation, poor self-care, mood swings, anxiety, and neglecting recovery activities.
In this stage, the individual actively considers using drugs or alcohol again. Part of them wants to use it, while the other part tries to stay sober. Signs of mental relapse include craving drugs or alcohol, reminiscing about past use, minimizing the consequences of past use, hanging out with old friends who still use, and planning how to use again.
The final stage is when the individual uses drugs or alcohol again. Once physical relapse occurs, the addiction cycle begins again.
Signs of physical relapse include:
- Obtaining and using drugs or alcohol.
- Lying about use.
- Hiding drug or alcohol use from others.
The Benefits of Healthy Coping Skills
Addictive substances activate the brain’s pleasure circuit, triggering the release of dopamine, a feel-good hormone. When you use these substances to escape or cope with difficult emotions, you can depend on them to feel okay and function. And this is how addiction starts.
Developing healthy coping skills for mental health can help you break this addictive cycle and develop a positive outlook. During a crisis, the right defense mechanisms can help you manage challenges and prevent minor setbacks from escalating. Healthy coping skills have many benefits, including:
Improved Emotional Regulation
Healthy coping skills can help you regulate your emotions positively. Rather than relying on substances to numb difficult emotions, healthy coping skills give you tools to process and manage your feelings constructively.
Coping skills can help individuals build resilience and quickly bounce back from challenges. Life is unpredictable, and the lows can be tough during recovery. But healthy coping strategies make it easier to deal with setbacks or stressors. Developing and utilizing healthy coping skills makes you feel more empowered and in control of your emotions and behaviors.
Healthy coping skills can also improve relationships with friends and family members. When you can better regulate your emotions and communicate effectively, you’re more likely to build and maintain positive relationships with others. In turn, they will be more willing to offer the emotional and social support you need during recovery.
Better Physical Health
Coping skills can also have physical health benefits. Research shows that individuals with strong coping skills are less likely to experience psychological stress, which can lead to physical and mental health problems over time.
And the best part is that healthy coping skills can help prevent relapse. Developing healthy ways to cope with difficult emotions and situations makes you less likely to turn to drugs or alcohol as a temporary fix. Instead, you have the tools and strategies to manage your emotions healthily and constructively, reducing the risk of relapse and supporting long-term recovery.
Real-world Application of Coping Strategies
Healthy coping strategies can be invaluable in managing emotional distress, depression, anxiety, loneliness, and other mental health issues efficiently. Some real-world applications of healthy coping strategies include:
Support groups provide a sense of community and connection with others going through similar experiences and can help combat feelings of isolation and loneliness. These groups offer safe spaces to share your struggles, feelings, and progress without fear of judgment. You get to learn from the experiences of others and gain new perspectives and insights into your recovery.
Support groups can also provide practical tools and strategies for managing your addiction and preventing relapse. For example, 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous often provide:
- A structured program for recovery that includes steps for addressing underlying issues.
- Developing healthy coping skills.
- Staying accountable to oneself and others.
Recreational Activities and Nutrition
Recreational activities and nutrition are important in addiction recovery and can help prevent relapse. Engaging in activities like breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, art, music, hiking, and group games can provide a healthy outlet for stress and emotions and promote feelings of well-being and relaxation.
Exercise (deep breathing, jogging, or walking), for example, is known to release endorphins, which are natural chemicals in the brain that promote positive feelings and reduce stress and pain. Engaging in activities like hiking and group games can provide a sense of adventure and social interaction, which can help individuals feel less isolated and more connected to others.
Nutrition is also important in addiction recovery as it can help you feel better physically and mentally. A balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can provide the necessary nutrients to support overall health and well-being.
Good Night’s sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep is another important coping strategy that can help prevent relapse. Sleep plays a vital role in maintaining good physical and mental health, and it’s especially important for individuals in recovery.
Lack of sleep can exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety and can make it harder to manage stress and difficult emotions. It can also make it more difficult to concentrate and make sound decisions, affecting overall well-being and recovery. Some tips for a good night’s sleep are:
- Establishing a regular sleep routine, which includes going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. This routine can help regulate the body’s internal clock and promote better sleep quality.
- Creating a sleep-conducive environment by keeping the bedroom cool, quiet, and dark.
- Limiting exposure to screens and electronics before bedtime can also help promote better sleep.
- Avoiding caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol before bedtime prevents sleep disruptions and promotes better overall health and well-being.
Journaling provides a safe and private outlet for expressing and processing difficult emotions and thoughts. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you better understand yourself and your triggers, which can help you develop healthier coping strategies and avoid relapse.
Journaling can also serve as a tool for self-reflection and self-awareness. When you regularly reflect on your experiences and progress, you can track your growth and identify areas where you may need to work on yourself. This can help you stay motivated and committed to your recovery journey.
Developing new coping mechanisms is a crucial part of addiction recovery, and it can be challenging to do it alone. At Recovery Centers of America, we provide a comprehensive approach to addiction treatment that includes a range of evidence-based therapies, support groups, and aftercare services. We aim to help individuals develop the coping mechanisms they need to maintain their long-term sobriety.