11 Coping Strategies that Prevent Relapse

Life is full of stress. In fact, your body is programmed to make you feel stressed every time it wants you to do something; this natural response to stressful stimuli is called the “fight or flight response.”

Some stressors are easy to handle, for example eating satisfies the stress of hunger and drinking satisfies the stress of thirst. Other stressors are not so easy to handle, for example the death of a loved one or a serious fight with a close friend.

People undergoing drug addiction treatment need to relearn to handle stressors without using drugs and/or alcohol. There are many other effective ways to handle stress; consider some of the following next time you find yourself upset:

1. Postpone Responding

When you first become stressed out over an issue, you are likely to make rushed decisions and react irrationally. Your emotions may impair your judgment and make you react in a way that’s not in your best interest. Take a moment to breathe deeply and clear your mind before responding and/or making decisions.

2. Distract Yourself

If you have time to take a step back from the stressful situation, do it! Go do things you enjoy to distract yourself from the stress…go dancing, exercise, watch TV, read a book, etc. Giving your mind a break from the stress can give you relief so you can tackle your problem more effectively at a later time.




3. Talk to your Sponsor, Counselor, or Therapist

Talking about stressful issues with supportive people is one of the most effective ways to relieve stress. People like your AA sponsor or addiction therapist are dedicated to your interests and keeping you from relapsing. Therapists and counselors are great listeners who will listen to your problems and help you interpret situations appropriately. They are well versed in helping people resolve problems in ways that can reduce future stress and cope with urges to drink, smoke, or take drugs.

4. Talk to More People

Discussing a particularly stressful issue with people and getting new perspectives is much better than dealing with things alone. Even talking to one person might not be enough; they might be supportive but unable to draw from a similar experience to share their insight and experiences. Talking to multiple people in group therapy or at a support group meeting is an easy way to get multiple perspectives to help you manage the situation and prevent relapse.

5. Get Busy

Address other unrelated tasks in your life. Get your car serviced, clean your house, or wash the dog. Do anything and everything that you’ve been putting off for later. Staying busy will keep you from worrying about your primary stressor and will give you space to clear your head while also completing other necessary tasks on your to-do list that might be contributing to the stress.

6. Ground Yourself

Another tactic for handling stress is keeping the senses engaged. Try smelling some flowers, slowly tasting and savoring delicious food, looking at a colorful painting, or walking around barefoot. You can also try grounding yourself by practicing yoga or meditating. These activities can help ease anxiety and prevent dissociating from reality.

7. Blow Off Steam

If you are feeling angry about your situation, you should try to release that anger in a non-destructive manner. Try screaming at a loud concert, engaging in rigorous exercise, or punching a pillow. Stay physically active until you are fatigued.


mother and daughter


8. Cry

There’s nothing wrong with crying…sometimes that’s the best way to release pent up emotions! Find a secluded, comfortable place and let go. If you’re comfortable, crying on someone’s shoulder might also be beneficial. If you find that you are crying an excessive amount, however, you may have clinical depression and should consult your primary care physician or a trained therapist.

9. Treat Yourself

Treat yourself! Go get a massage, get your nails done, get tea/ice cream/coffee, go for a nice dinner, etc. Engaging in some of your favorite activities can elevate your mood and help you relax. Once you get into a positive frame of mind, you can begin to focus on handling your current predicament tactfully.

10. Reason with Yourself

Write down your thoughts and feelings. Try examining your situation from an outsider’s point of view. What would that outsider say? Would they interpret your situation the same way? Could you be inducing your own stress by making false assumptions?

Sometimes we negatively interpret situations by attributing artificial causes to situations. For example, maybe you expected someone to help you with a task, but they failed to follow through. You might be convinced that they did not help you out of spite or they were trying to hurt you. In these situations, you should work to suppress your initial negative thoughts and reinterpret the situation.

11. Be Thankful

Sometimes we become so consumed by our problems that we forget to be thankful for the good parts of our lives. Remember those less fortunate than you. Try volunteering at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, battered women’s shelter, etc. Who knows…you might just find a new cause to be passionate about that gives your life more meaning! Shift your inward focus to an outward focus and see what happens.

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