Common Coping Strategies for Substance Abuse

August 26, 2022

Coping tools or coping strategies are an essential component of lasting addiction recovery. Achieving recovery from addiction is a multifaceted process that is far more involved than simply stopping drinking or using drugs. For your teen to achieve lasting addiction recovery, it is crucial to learn about why they started using or drinking in the first place. It is also necessary to change thoughts, habits, behaviors, and social circles to ensure they can remain on the road to lasting recovery. 


Achieving lasting addiction recovery is about your teen creating a new life, free from drugs and alcohol. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to learn new, healthier coping tools your teen can use when faced with life’s challenges and stressors. 


Why are Coping Strategies for Substance Abuse Important?

Learning to cope with challenges in the stressors is a critical component for anyone, regardless of age, in substance abuse recovery. Research shows that many people suffering from addiction symptoms turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping tool. As a part of recovery, your teen must give up on or turn away from former coping mechanisms of using drugs or alcohol when faced with challenges or stressors. Instead, they must learn new ways to cope to avoid starting using again when they are forced to deal with the day-to-day pressures of life. 


Without healthy coping strategies for substance abuse, your teen may experience a range of physical and mental health challenges, including:

  • Relapse
  • Emotional distress
  • New or worsening mental health conditions
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Medical health problems
  • Suicidal thoughts and self-harming behaviors


By developing and practicing healthy strategies, your teen can learn to safely and effectively manage even the most complex challenges to their mental health and sobriety concerning substance abuse. 


Getting to the Roots of Recovery

There are many potential root causes and risk factors that can lead to addiction and substance abuse. When someone does not know how to manage these challenges effectively, it can lead to substance use and abuse. Although certainly not a healthy way to handle life’s challenges, drugs and alcohol will (at least temporarily) dull the pain and discomfort associated with many mental and physical health conditions. 


Drugs and alcohol are highly addictive chemicals that trigger the brain’s reward circuit. Also called the pleasure circuit, this area of the brain is responsible for producing and releasing a chemical called dopamine. When excessive amounts of dopamine are released due to substance use, it causes a sense of euphoria. The brain does not need drugs or alcohol to produce and release dopamine. Dopamine (and other chemicals that are part of the reward circuit) are naturally occurring in the body. Typically, they are released under circumstances where your teen feels joy, happiness, or pleasure. 


However, using drugs or alcohol causes the brain to flood the body with dopamine. Because far more dopamine is released by using substances than would typically be released under normal circumstances, the body cannot achieve the same type of high naturally. This process makes using drugs and alcohol more desirable. It also makes using substances to cope with challenges or stressors feel more effective than other forms of coping. This is typically how the cycle of addiction begins. 


To learn how to cope with substance addiction, it is first necessary for your teen to understand the emotions, circumstances, or traumas that drove them to first drink or use drugs. Next, they must learn how to handle these stressors without harmful coping tools. Therapeutic models such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT are evidence-based therapies that focus on helping your teen achieve both of these steps. CBT helps your teen examine and understand negative thoughts and beliefs that influence substance use


As part of a teen-focused addiction treatment program at Hillcrest, a specialist trained in CBT therapy will help your teen learn how to examine and change their thought patterns and teach them how to cope with stressors, cravings, and relapse triggers using safer and healthier coping strategies. 


The coping tools learned during addiction therapy are skills your teen can apply throughout all stages of their recovery journey. They are also skills that are beneficial in other facets of life when they may face higher than usual stress levels. Coping strategies for substance abuse are a vital component of addiction recovery. In some instances, knowing how to use coping tools when needed can be the difference between maintaining recovery and relapsing back to substance use. 


Examples of Common Coping Strategies for Substance Use

No matter how hard one tries, they will encounter triggers in the form of events, people, and emotions that will make them want to drink or get high again. So, what should your teen do to help manage these triggers and avoid relapse in a healthy way? Below are a few tips they can use to help manage their triggers during their recovery from addiction. 


Identify your triggers

Above we discussed triggers and the importance of understanding and identifying them when it comes to substance abuse. We also discussed how triggers are different for different people. Because of this, every recovering addict’s triggers will also be different. Some common triggers, such as seeing someone who is drunk or high or spending time with certain friends, can be challenging during recovery. Knowing and understanding your own specific personal triggers will be essential for a successful recovery.


Develop a plan for triggers and cravings

Cravings for drugs and alcohol are likely to happen, and during the early stages of recovery, they can be very intense. A strong addiction treatment program such as that offered here at Hillcrest can prepare your teen for these inevitable challenges by helping them learn new coping skills to deal with stressful triggers, substance cravings, and social pressures.


It is vital to avoid relapse triggers whenever possible. If certain people, places, or activities trigger cravings, it is a good idea to avoid those situations altogether. This may include making significant social changes such as finding new things to do with old friends or finding new social groups to spend time with. Despite best efforts, there will be times when someone brings alcohol or drugs to a party or another location where you teen maybe. Preparing ahead for these situations will make it easier to respond at the moment.


Managing cravings can be challenging. Here are a few strategies to try if cravings are becoming overwhelming:

  • Talk to someone you trust-this could be a sponsor, a family member, a supportive friend, a counselor, or someone from your faith community.
  • Find a distraction-until the urge passes, find something distracting to participate in. Go for a walk, listen to music, clean the house, or complete a task of some kind. Try whatever works until the craving subsides.
  • Review the reminders of why you quit using or drinking-when cravings are intense, consider all the good that has come from recovery and sobriety. This will help you forget the negatives and the cravings. 


Practice your trigger plan

Roleplay, even if just with yourself in the bathroom mirror. Practice what you will say or what you will do when the moment comes that you feel like using again. This practice may seem silly, but it may save you from a rough day, a temporary lapse, or even a full relapse back to substance abuse and addiction.


New hobbies

Unfortunately, boredom is a common cause of relapse for substance abuse. Before rehab, one’s addictions took up so much time and energy (and caused added drama) that sobriety can feel empty and dull. It is vital to find new hobbies that are exciting and inspiring. Participating in clubs or activities that were once out of reach due to addiction can give an individual working on sobriety an outlet that doesn’t involve drinking or drugs. Participation in clubs or activities will also introduce new people who share similar interests, which will grow the circle of friends outside of those who could be triggering.

These friendships can lead to better health and improved social skills and confidence. Sometimes these things are hard to achieve without alcohol as a confidence booster.  


Practice self-care

When you are sleeping well, eating a balanced diet, exercising, and remaining aware of your emotions, you are better equipped to handle triggers when they arise. If you are in recovery or know someone who is, you have likely heard the acronym HALT. This stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. These four emotions or symptoms are the most common causes of lapse and relapse. Taking care of yourself will help to ensure you avoid these four challenges.


Do not test yourself

If you know visiting your friend’s house or a house party is a definite trigger for you, do not go over there to see if your willpower is as strong as you believe it to be. While you may be able to avoid partaking in substance abuse this time, the seed has been planted, and you may not be able to next time. Also, an event or situation you had not previously identified as a trigger may occur.


Recovering from addiction and maintaining long-term sobriety can be challenging under the best circumstances. Unfortunately, no matter how hard your teen tries to avoid triggering events will occur and proceed to threaten their recovery from substance abuse. Their level of success in coping with triggering situations will depend on the coping strategies they developed during treatment, as well as other factors such as how well they are taking care of themselves during their recovery.

At Hillcrest, we understand how challenging achieving lasting sobriety can be. During your time here, we will teach you how to identify and cope with triggers. We will also help you develop the vital coping strategies for substance abuse you can use when faced with previously identified triggers or surprise triggers. To learn more about teen addiction treatment in Los Angeles, contact us at Hillcrest today

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