Coping Skills for Substance Use Disorder

Coping with addiction can be a significant challenge. Addiction affects everyone differently, and learning how to deal with it’s effects in your life, whether you have a loved one struggling, or it is you who struggles, can make all the difference in how well you do in overcoming it.

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Addiction can be sneaky. One moment, it may be one of your ways to deal; but after some time, it turns into a problem in itself. What are the ways to cope with addiction and its triggers? Are there long-term solutions? Read to learn more.

When you read stories about how people get into drugs or alcohol, you would realize that many of them did not intend to use it ‘just because’. A lot of sufferers often get into the habit of using substances because of their inner struggles or other problems that surround their life.

Thus, addiction is stereotyped as a coping mechanism. However, for many people, it doesn’t stay that way. Addiction is like an invisible malignant tumor–when left untreated, it progresses and worsens until it becomes life-threatening. Those who go through it now need to find ways to deal with the addiction as a problem in itself.

In this post, we will be discussing how people manage their addiction, the different types of coping mechanisms, and how you can utilize healthy habits both for substance use problems and its triggers.

What Is A Coping Mechanism?

Coping mechanisms are strategies that people use in order to deal with illness, stress, or trauma in their lives. There are different ways to cope, and people can do them consciously and unconsciously. For example, people who feel nervous before a performance may pace back and forth in order to get rid of stage fright.

One thing to remember about coping mechanisms is that some of them are more effective than others. In fact, some ways of coping with addiction triggers or coping with drug addiction can be unhelpful or even counter-effective. If you are unsure about how your coping skills fare in terms of helping you overcome an addiction problem, it is best to seek professional help.

How Do People Cope With Addiction?

In some instances, substance use isn’t considered coping mechanism anymore, rather, it turns into a problem in itself. It can permeate every area of an individual’s life–their responsibilities at work, school, their health, and even how they deal with others. Suffering from addiction is a very personal issue, that some people may choose these common maladaptive coping skills:

  • Ignoring the issue: “There’s no problem at all.”
  • Minimizing the addiction: “It’s not that bad, some people have it worse than me.”
  • Isolation: “It’s better to keep it to myself.”
  • Justifying the problem: “I have so many things going on, and this is my way of making myself feel better.”
  • Bandwagon: “Everyone else around me is doing it, why can’t I?”

The goal of seeking professional help is reducing these maladaptive mindsets and replacing them with better skills for dealing with addiction urges. Essentially, it is best to know what kinds of coping mechanisms are helpful in addiction recovery by differentiating between the two main types.

Two Main Types Of Coping Mechanisms

As previously mentioned, there are several ways that people cope with internal and external struggles. They can be divided into two main types:

Healthy Coping Mechanisms

In general, healthy coping mechanisms are those strategies that help you deal with stress, illness, or trauma effectively with no harmful consequences. Many of them are evidence-based strategies, and some of them are learned through experiences or others’ experiences as well.

Some examples of healthy coping mechanisms include the following:

  • Positive Reframing: Simply put, positive reframing is the ability to see the bright side of any given situation. A study published in The Royal Society claims that focusing on positive emotions ‘spark’ actions that help people rise above their situation. For example, coping with addiction in the family can be difficult—but when accompanied by positive emotions such as hope, it is followed by an action such as deciding to go to rehab.
  • Finding Support: Another effective way of coping with problems is through seeking support. Support can be found in the form of expert help or peers who are going through the same struggles. For example, people who are coping with addiction and PTSD can seek support in dual diagnosis centers along with talk therapy groups for those who have substance use and PTSD. Joining groups of individuals going through the same thing may help establish the fact that you are not alone.
  • Relaxation: People dealing with anxiety can use relaxation techniques as a means to cope. Deep breathing, meditation, or nature therapy are all strategies that promote relaxation. Today, there are multiple apps available for guided meditation that can help practice relaxation.

Take note that in some instances, “healthy” can be viewed as subjective. Although the examples of strategies mentioned above are generally healthy, they are still determined on a case-to-case basis if coping mechanisms are deemed appropriate for a given situation.

Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

The second main type of coping mechanism is the complete opposite. Unhealthy coping mechanisms are those strategies that people consciously or unconsciously use to deal with external or internal problems. These habits do not solve the issue being dealt with, rather, they can even make the situation worse.

Some examples are:

  • Denial: Generally, being in denial about a situation prolongs the suffering of the people involved. For example, it is common for those coping with the addiction of a loved one to be in denial about the true state of things. Thus, the family member becomes an enabler, worsening the addiction and substance dependence over time.
  • Self-blame: Another common unhealthy coping mechanism is self-blame. Although it is good to take responsibility to some extent, self-blaming causes a lack of confidence in one’s abilities to recover and a sense of hopelessness.
  • Substance use: People who experience overwhelming problems or illnesses such as depression or chronic pain may turn to the use of substances to experience relief. Those dealing with addiction and chronic pain usually start on the pattern of abuse by taking increased amounts of prescription pain medications. Others suffering from anxiety or depression may also frequently use antidepressants until drug tolerance develops. If you think your love one is using drugs, it is important to be able to tell the difference; for example, Adderall vs cocaine–seek medical advise.


The ideal situation is for every individual to deal with problems using healthy coping mechanisms. However, this is not always the case. Unhealthy coping mechanisms can sometimes be a learned behavior or habit that can be hard to get rid of, especially if it has something to do with developing an addiction. If you tink

Effects Of Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

Unhealthy coping skills may seem harmless at first, but they always have negative consequences. Whether it’s a certain frame of mind, response patterns, or actual habits, they will always end up providing temporary solutions to problems that can worsen later on.

Common effects of unhealthy coping mechanisms when suffering from addiction are:

  • Increased dependency: When people use unhealthy coping skills to deal with addiction, they end up progressing with their use of alcohol or drugs. For example, being in denial about a substance use disorder problem would cause the body to tolerate more drugs, which can, in turn, cause worse withdrawal symptoms and increased dependency.
  • Ignoring  environmental triggers. For instance, if your drug addiction is heavily influenced by your friends who are also drug abusers, you may still be exposed to temptation and find it extremely difficult for you to successfully recovery.
  • Health problems: Unhealthy coping mechanisms leave the problem unsolved, which can make the person suffer from complications of substance use. If a person is drinking alcohol, he or she may suffer from liver problems. Drug use can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
  • Relationship issues: When people suffer from substance use disorders, it is not just them who are affected–their loved ones are also coping with drug addiction in the family. This leads to arguments and loss of intimacy between family and friendships. Substances can change the composition of the brain, which may result in personality changes that cause conflict.
  • Financial problems: As things remain status quo, a person with addictions will commonly continue with their use. This can cause them to spend their savings, or their loved ones’ money in order to get more drugs or alcohol.
  • Life-threatening situations: Ignoring a substance use disorder problem will result in the progression of the disease, which can cause life-threatening situations directly or indirectly related to the addiction. An individual may suffer from drug overdose, or exhibit dangerous behaviors which are potentially fatal.

Thankfully, these effects can be reversed when one decides to break free from unhelpful patterns and mindsets. Below are some examples of healthy coping mechanisms that can lead you steps closer to addiction recovery.

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Healthy Ways To Cope With Addiction

These healthy ways to cope are readily available in top-notch rehab centers with various treatment options.


Psychotherapies are designed to help people identify and eliminate negative thought patterns that worsen addictions. For example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps you to develop a habit of acknowledging an intrusive thought. Intrusive thoughts are commonly negative images that “pop up” in your head which cause anxiety or depression. These thoughts may also lead you to various types of compulsions such as substance use. Through CBT, you can identify an intrusive thought and change the way you perceive it in order to avoid compulsions.

Other types of psychotherapies which are helpful in addiction are:

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • Contingency Management
  • Interpersonal Therapy
  • Psychodynamic Therapy

These methods are provided in one-on-one or group settings with a mental health counselor. Since these psychotherapies are evidence-based, they are proven to be helpful in coping with addictions.

Support Groups

Many support groups are available for people going through substance use problems. The goal of joining support groups is to find encouragement and accountability from people going through the same situations.

Support groups are available in high-quality rehab centers as a part of an inpatient and outpatient program. In some instances, support groups are divided into categories such as: Men only, Women only, Seniors, Teens,  LGBTQ, Veterans.

The purpose of sorting people in specific support groups is to provide a better space where people can relate more to each others’ struggles while giving them the opportunity to share encouragement and advice to their peers.

Nutrition And Fitness

Undoubtedly, nutrition and fitness play a big role in helping reduce cravings associated with addiction. It also provides the individual with healthy habits that can lessen idle time and addiction triggers. Having a specific plan to improve nutrition and fitness can also contribute to a person’s overall health.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, exercise shows to have promising effects in aiding lasting addiction recovery. A diet consisting of whole foods and less junk also contributes in improving depression and anxiety, a common dual diagnosis issue for substance use disorder patients.

Holistic Approaches

Holistic therapies are also helpful in decreasing stress and improving one’s mental well-being. Practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques can aid people in achieving mental clarity and emotional stability. Some holistic methods which are helpful in addiction include:

  • Meditation
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage Therapy
  • Aromatherapy
  • Reflexology

The goal of holistic approaches is to battle substance use disorders without the negative side effects of extra medications or other medical procedures.


One of the main signs of a developing substance use problem is much time spent on drug or alcohol intake. Recreational activities are healthy means of coping that help replace the time spent on substance use.

People can engage in sports, music, arts and crafts, writing, exploring nature, and other hobbies that interest them. Recreational activities can serve as an outlet for people to express themselves and to provide a temporary respite from the stresses of life. For example, people coping with addiction during the holidays may focus on enjoying their hobbies instead of going to places that trigger their substance use. Balance is key, and recreation helps people achieve a sense of balance in their life instead of feeling overwhelmed.

How Rehab Can Train You For Healthy Coping

Going to rehab can be one of the best decisions you will make when it comes to battling an addiction. For many people, addiction recovery is a long journey, but it became easier when they sought experts who can train them to cope with triggers in healthier ways.

How exactly does rehab help you in developing healthy coping mechanisms?

  1. A venue free from distractions and triggers: Substance use disorder problems are both caused by internal and external factors. By temporarily eliminating distractions and triggers from your usual environment, it is easier to get a fresh start.
  2. Seeking help from trained experts: Professional counselors can help you identify unhealthy coping skills and give you the tools to create strategies that bring you one step closer to recovery. Experts are aware of evidence-based techniques in battling addiction, which is a better route than trying to self-medicate.
  3. Controlled environment: Having a controlled environment provides you with the structure needed to create healthy coping skills. Habits are formed through consistent actions repeated over time, and a rehab facility is a perfect venue to eliminate unhealthy ways to deal with addiction.

Healthy Ways To Cope With Addiction? Yes It’s Possible

Consider healthy coping skills as stepping stones towards addiction recovery. Although substance use disorder is a complex problem, you can make it less complicated by adopting healthy ways to cope. These strategies are intended to help you break free from patterns that make you stuck and finally achieve the recovery you deserve.



Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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