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Healthy Coping Skills to Prevent Relapse

Patient Center
10.08.2020

Substance Use Disorder (SUD) recovery is a lifelong journey. As one will hear many times during treatment, it’s one day at a time. Learning and implementing healthy coping skills to prevent relapse is essential to long term sobriety success and living a happy life in recovery.

Through a patient’s time in our rehabilitation treatment program, we work with them to not only identify their relapse triggers, but also work to develop healthy coping skills to prevent relapse and live their life fully – without drugs or alcohol.

Learning Healthy Coping Skills to Prevent Relapse

Recovery from SUD is a journey of personal growth, learning and developing skills to cope with the risk of relapse that comes at any stage of recovery. Because there is always a risk – as addiction is not a curable disease – having the coping skills to handle difficult times or situations is highly important to maintaining sobriety.

Common Triggers of Relapse

We know that each individual brings their own set of relapse triggers to the table – as SUD is a highly individualized experience. But there are a few common triggers that every individual who is in recovery should be aware of:

  • Increased anxiety and stress
  • Financial issues
  • Boredom
  • Relationship changes or problems
  • People, places, and things
  • Intense emotions such as increased anger

6 Healthy Coping Skills to Prevent Relapse

At Wellbridge, we treat SUD while also preparing our patients for life after treatment in parallel. It is one of our foundational beliefs and is the best course to set patients up for long term sobriety – our ultimate goal. Through a patient’s treatment plan, we work with them to identify and develop multiple coping skills to utilize in different situations. Here are six coping skills that can be helpful when fighting against relapse:

  1. Delay the decision: When feeling triggered or experiencing urges to use drugs or alcohol, put off making that decision for just 15 minutes. Many urges will go away if you do not give in immediately. Use that 15 minutes to remind yourself that the strength of the urge will decrease if you remain strong and wait it out.
  2. Use grounding techniques: Anxiety and stress are the leading causes of relapse. Grounding techniques take an individual through their 5 senses, helping them remain in the current moment rather than focusing on the negative thoughts that are urging use. Grounding techniques are a highly powerful coping skill that allow an individual to remain grounded in the present moment and tune in with their surroundings.
  3. Change your thoughts: Managing thoughts about using can help an individual cope with the urges. Some ways to change your thoughts about using are:
    •    Find new thoughts to challenge the current thoughts that lead to use. For example, “My track record has proven that I cannot have one drink and then stop.” The more you challenge your negative thoughts, the more comfortable you will get in utilizing this technique.
    •    Think about the benefits of recovery. Thinking through the positive consequences of not using will help to weaken the urge to use drugs or alcohol.
    •    Think about the negative consequences. Reminding one’s self about what they can lose and how using will negatively impact their future can be helpful in curbing the impulse to use. Some individuals find it helpful to carry a card that lists both positive and negative consequences to serve as a reminder.
  4. Do something else: Finding a healthy activity that one can do immediately and enjoys interrupts the thought process and distracts the individual from the urge to use. Healthy activities can be enjoyable and provide a sense of accomplishment. These activities should occur in a space safe from triggers.
  5. Utilize deep breathing exercises: Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. It is a wonderful coping skill to prevent relapse as it can be used anywhere without anyone around knowing.
  6. Lean on a sober support system: It is crucial that an individual battling SUD has a sober support system that they can utilize. Attending support groups such as AA, NA and Smart Recovery can provide a safe place for an individual to discuss their triggers. Having a sponsor or a trustworthy person who is supportive of their recovery that they can contact when triggers occur can provide the extra support that one may need when facing relapse.

Lastly, it is important to know that relapse occurs. But it is not a sign of failure or reason to give up on a life in sobriety. If you are implementing your learned healthy coping skills to prevent relapse, but are still struggling, it may be a good time to reach out to our team at Wellbridge for advanced support.