Giving up an addiction is a great achievement but it is not the end of the story. In order to ensure a fulfilling and lasting life in recovery, the individual will need to do things differently in the future. Just giving up alcohol and drugs may not be enough. The problems that drove people into addiction in the first place will likely still be there. Unless the individual develops new coping skills it may be only a matter of time before they relapse. Even if they do manage to stay sober they can be faced with a future that is far less satisfying than it should be.
The words dry drunk are most often used to describe an alcoholic who no longer drinks, but in many ways continues to act as if they did. The life of the dry drunk is unsatisfying. Friends and family may complain that this individual is as hard to deal with as when they were drinking all the time. Such a description could be applied any individual who has become stuck in their recovery, not just the alcoholic.
Those people who choose a life away from substance abuse have to find a new way of doing things. The required changes take time. If people get stuck in recovery, they stop making the needed progress. The usual reason why this happens is that they lose motivation or there are issues in their life that they refuse to deal with. Those who develop sufficient coping skills will be far less likely to get stuck in this way.
Coping skills are the tools that people use to handle the changes that happen in life, whether they be exciting, terrifying or simply boring. Humans have to contend with many aspects of life that may be beyond their control. A good example of this is the individual with a physical disability. They will adapt to this limitation so they can function at a higher level. Every day, people are faced with problems and challenges. They use their coping skills to navigate life as best they can.
Coping skills can be negative or positive. For example, some individuals cope with criticism by always resorting to anger. Such a strategy can be self-defeating in the long run. Addiction is another example of a negative coping skill. Initially substance abuse can help the addict hide from their problems, but eventually the cure becomes a lot more damaging than the actual problem.
It can be helpful to think of coping skills as similar to tools in a toolbox. The more good tools the individual has, the more likely they will be able to cope with any situation that arises. It can take a bit of time for people to build up their toolbox. It involves a lot of experimentation. Some tools will need to be discarded along the way because they turn out to be ineffective.
The addict will have developed some poor coping skills prior to and during their addiction. If they continue to rely on their old patterns for dealing with challenges, life will remain unsatisfying. A lot of the required knowledge will be picked up in rehab and from support groups. It will only be by using new coping skills to deal with challenges that behavior will change. As the individual finds success with their new tools, their confidence grows. This means that they will be far more likely to use that tool again in the future.
Humans are clever and can learn without the constant repetition of trial and error. Social learning theory is based on the assumption that the individual can learn by observing other people and seeing the consequences of their actions. This ability is extremely important when it comes to developing coping skills. It means that the individual doesn’t have to suffer the consequences of negative coping skills in order to avoid them. In recovery, this means that people can learn from the mistakes of others.
The coping skills that people will add to their toolbox will vary greatly. Here are just a few possible examples:
* Attendance at a support group
* Working with a sponsor
* Practicing mindfulness meditation
* Exercising to remove tension from the body
* Managing the HALT relapse triggers; hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness
* Keeping a journal
* Attending therapy sessions
* Helping other addicts
* Developing a strong support network
* Relaxation techniques
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