People may abuse substances for numerous reasons. One of the most common factors in the development of addiction is the need for healthy coping mechanisms. An inability to deal with stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions can cause a person to look for a way out. Rather than face these challenges directly, drugs and alcohol can serve as an escape from reality and may numb a person’s thoughts and feelings. It can seem easier to deal with unhappiness this way, but ultimately, substance abuse worsens a person’s condition and makes them less capable of handling problems or negative emotions in the future.
Addiction fundamentally changes the way the brain functions and can make it virtually impossible to manage cravings, compulsions, and other behaviors. These symptoms of addiction can fuel unhappiness and propel a person deeper into the grips of addiction. Rather than finding peace or happiness through a temporary escape, a person is often left feeling worse than they did initially, making substance abuse a problem that interferes with everyday life. Cravings and withdrawal can further worsen a person’s physical and mental health, and the only way many know how to make them stop is to continue using.
The Importance of Healthy Outlets in Addiction Recovery
Finding healthy alternatives and positive coping mechanisms is vital to successful sobriety. Drugs and alcohol often become a person’s way of coping with stress and escaping negative feelings, but in the long run, they often exacerbate a person’s situation and cause them to experience greater difficulty implementing true change.
While overcoming addiction on its own is a powerful accomplishment, it cannot be managed long-term without making significant lifestyle changes. One of the biggest and most challenging changes to make in recovery is finding a way to restore balance in a person’s life by developing new, healthy coping mechanisms. There are numerous alternatives to substance abuse that can allow a person to manage triggers, cravings, and stress in a healthy way that does not threaten sobriety.
Ideas for Healthy Outlets in Recovery
Rather than using drugs or alcohol to escape stressors, some alternative healthy coping mechanisms may include:
- Exercise: Exercise can be a healthy coping mechanism in multiple ways. Exercising releases endorphins that can help regulate mood and reduce stress. It can also help regulate sleep habits, strengthen emotional health, and is a great way to improve physical health. Many experience the added benefit of improved self-image and self-esteem because of regular exercise. With all of these added benefits, cravings are kept under better control and the risk of relapse is reduced.
- Meditation: Meditation can help a person feel more centered and relaxed. It encourages a person to become more aware of their breathing, posture, and thoughts in order to better manage stress. Rather than becoming overwhelmed by negative thoughts or feelings, channeling your energy into focusing on your breathing and letting go of everything else can reduce the risk of relapse.
- Creative expression: There are a variety of creative outlets you can explore that can replace substance abuse as a means of escaping stress. Writing, drawing, painting, sculpting, playing music, and dancing are just some of the many outlets you can explore. Creative exploration allows you explore your interests while releasing pent up energy through a healthy medium.
- Spirituality: For many in recovery, faith is a strong influence in sobriety. Exploring spirituality can help some find purpose in life, learn how to draw on inner strength, and learn how to view adversity as a growth opportunity. Many recovery programs have faith-based elements for those in treatment to help them find meaning and form healthy relationships with others.
- Communication: Being able to talk about the things that cause you stress is vital to success. Reach out for help when you need it. Having a close, reliable support network can help you overcome difficult challenges, process negative thoughts, and work through tough times.
- Volunteer: Putting your energy into helping others can be a great positive outlet. Volunteer work, providing mentorship, and staying active in the community can be incredibly fulfilling. Rather than exerting energy into negative emotions, you can put your energy into giving back and positively engaging with others.
- Find new hobbies: Substance abuse can develop when a person does not have other interests or activities that fill their time. Finding fulfilling hobbies to engage in can help minimize stress and build healthy relationships with others. Playing sports, learning how to play an instrument, or joining others in group activities can keep you busy and provide you with a healthy outlet.
Addiction treatment programs or sober living homes help those in early recovery learn how to use these healthy outlets as tools to overcome their desire to use drugs and alcohol. In addition to therapy, 12 step program, and other methods, life skills training can help better prepare those in early recovery to live life sober.