Yes, you can recover from a substance use disorder. There are many forms of treatment that can help you on the path to sobriety. The diversity of what are called “therapeutic interventions” can allow you and specialists to find the treatment course that is right for you.
When recovering from an alcohol or substance use disorder, there are many factors that can contribute to relapse. Learning to avoid or adapt to these factors is key to your recovery. Below, you will learn about the stresses that can lead to relapse and how to avoid, prevent, and otherwise deal with them. But remember you do not have to do so alone.
What Is Stress?
The National Institute of Health (NIH) defines stress as both a physical and emotional response. Stress results from changes in your life. It is also important to understand that stress is a normal feeling. Our abilities to deal with the stresses of life, both big and small, are called coping mechanisms. For someone in recovery, it is vital to develop and maintain these healthy coping mechanisms. Otherwise, the temptation to cope by using substances could lead to relapse.
Stress and the Risk of Relapse
- Negative mood states can contribute to relapse, while positive mood states can help prevent it.
- Negative thinking is a factor that can result in relapse, while positive thinking related to avoiding substances and the support of family and friends diminish it.
- The greater the length of time the substance is used, the higher the risk of relapse. However, this is mitigated by ongoing abstinence from the substance and a strong support system.
- Undesirable events, ranging from moderate to severe, can increase the risk of relapse. Positive or even ambiguous (neither positive nor negative) life events can help diminish the chance of relapse over time. At the same time, social support in the form of therapy, groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, and the support of family and friends can almost completely mitigate the impact of negative life events.
- Reduced cognitive vigilance (awareness of stresses and substance use triggers) carries with it a high risk of relapse. However, cognitive vigilance such as self-inventory, understanding your emotions, and strategizing ways to avoid stress and substance availability are among the best ways to prevent relapse.
While some of these observations may seem obvious, one can lose sight of them in the midst of a trying situation. That is why the last factor, cognitive vigilance, is so vital to recovery.
Stresses That Often Go Unrecognized
Other types of stress exist, but they are often overlooked because they seem minor or insignificant at the time. What they are and how powerful they can be may surprise you. As you recover, it is important to understand these stresses. It is also vital to know that, with the right help, you can overcome any of them and prevent relapse from occurring. These lesser-known stresses, as detailed by the NIH, are listed below.
Boredom, isolation, and loneliness are cited as the number one cause of relapse. Not knowing what to do with your time or whom to turn to is a risk during every stage of recovery. A consistent schedule and regular interaction with your support system are vital to staying sober.
Memories of events, people, or places associated with substance use can be triggers that cause people to focus on times when using was interesting, fun, or otherwise enjoyable. Oftentimes, when people are recalling these things, they are not recalling or contextualizing the long-term negative effects of their substance use. This is why major positive life changes, including changes to your social circle and daily activities, can help you on the path to sobriety.
Co-occurring or comorbid disorders (sometimes referred to as dual diagnosis) are those that exist alongside a substance use disorder. Conditions like depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and anger management issues are related to substance use in many ways. They can be sources of high-level stress. By lessening and learning to deal with these comorbidities, it becomes easier to remain sober.
Guilt is an often-overlooked factor that can put you at risk. While it is important to understand the consequences and results of your substance use, feeling constant remorse can lower your self-esteem, lead to a negative mindset or depression, and ultimately take your focus away from the positive results of recovery. Recognizing the effects your substance use has had on others and making amends for them are a key aspect of AA and NA’s steps to recovery. However, in making amends and seeking forgiveness, self-forgiveness is just as important to recovery. This is because it raises self-esteem and improves one’s outlook on the likelihood of recovery. While feelings of guilt and shame are natural, feeling them persistently can ultimately do more harm than good. After all, guilt and shame are also sources of stress.
Close but troublesome relationships can also be a source of stress. An example of this is a family member whom you care about but who makes you anxious or tempts you to use. While cutting ties with that family member may not be an option, altering the relationship and setting up healthy boundaries can help make your permanent recovery far more likely. Learning how to set these boundaries or learning what to do when a relationship is too codependent or toxic to maintain is a vital coping skill in both recovery and life.
Urges and cravings are stresses that can happen at any time. They can take you by surprise and occur at inconvenient times and places. It is crucial to seek out support whenever urges or cravings occur. It is also vital to recognize that craving a substance is not the same thing as relapse. Having strategies and a strong support system in place can help you navigate urges and cravings in ways that reduce stress and maintain your sobriety.
A person’s temperament or psychological makeup may make them more susceptible to stress. In this case, a person may run a higher risk of relapse. This is no cause to despair, though, and it is not a guarantee that a person will relapse. Instead, cognitive vigilance, therapeutic interventions like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and advanced coping skills should be sought out.
A lack of confidence in one’s ability to stay sober is the last of these lesser-known stresses. A person’s confidence in their ability to accomplish something is called “self-efficacy.” While this has been applied to sports and business psychology, it is also an important factor in the treatment of substance use disorders. Low self-efficacy has been shown to increase the chance of relapse, while high self-efficacy has been shown to contribute to long-term sobriety. Studies by the NIH have shown that the more strategies for coping and the more comprehensive the understanding of substance use, the higher a person’s self-efficacy becomes.
Building and Maintaining Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Learning coping mechanisms for stress does not just occur in treatment. It can also be developed individually. Below are some tactics for coping with stress that are recommended by experts.
- Relaxation Techniques (sometimes called Relaxation Response Techniques) – These techniques can be as simple as deep breathing and thinking cheerful or pleasant thoughts. As shown above, positive thinking reduces the chances of relapse. Deep breathing, also called belly breathing and diaphragmatic breathing, helps reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and boost energy.
- Mindfulness Meditation – Meditation has been proven to have many clinical benefits. It is also about far more than relaxation. By using controlled breathing and mental focus, one becomes more aware of even the smallest thoughts, urges, cravings, desires, and anxieties. Mindfulness meditation teaches you how to let go of these things, not judge yourself, and cope with unpleasant emotions, no matter how strong they are.
- Exercise, Stretching, and Yoga – Exercise has been proven to be especially beneficial in early recovery. It improves respiration and heart rate, reduces pain, releases the endorphins that create a natural “high,” and boosts positive mood. Stretching, much like exercise, is helpful in reducing pain throughout the body — something especially beneficial to those who are recovering from an opioid use disorder. Yoga combines the benefits of exercise and stretching with a focus that is similar to meditation. It helps you become aware of your body, which helps you to recognize and attend to pain and to understand the physical triggers that can lead to relapse.
- Support-Seeking – This is an action that can manifest in many ways. Calling a friend, spending time with family, joining a support group like AA or NA, and attending group therapy all fall under this category. Studies have shown that support-seeking increases the chances that you will enter treatment. It has also been shown to increase the likelihood of both short-term recovery and permanent sobriety. It is important for you to build and rely on the support system that you are most comfortable with whether it is among family and friends, people who are also in recovery, or specialists in a clinical setting.
HALT Stress at Its Source
As you build your long-term coping mechanisms, it is also good to focus on the short-term. There are many techniques for coping with emotions quickly, and the most important of these is recognizing emotions and their causes. The HALT assessment is an easy way to identify the source of your stress. HALT is an acronym that stands for “Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.” By determining if one of these states is causing you stress, you are practicing what is called self-care. The four states in the HALT acronym are among the most common stressors in daily life, let alone recovery. Through this self-assessment, you can begin to strategize ways to eliminate stress.
Another Way To Look at Coping
The NIH has determined four major ways that people cope with stress while in recovery.
- Problem-Focused Coping – This set of coping mechanisms seeks to recognize and eliminate the cause of the stress. Strategizing stress reduction and avoidance, exercising self-restraint, and simplifying your schedule are three examples of problem-focused coping.
- Emotion-Focused Coping – These techniques seek to address the negative emotions that arise from stress and craving. Reducing negative emotions diminishes the chance of relapse. Examples of this type of coping are acceptance of negative emotions through self-forgiveness, the use of humor to boost mood and re-contextualize stress, positive thinking and reframing situations in a healthier context, and religious activities.
- Meaning-Focused Coping – Every stressful situation can have a greater meaning. Discovering and managing that meaning can also help eliminate the associated stress. Framing these difficult situations in the greater context of your life can be extremely helpful. Two examples of meaning-focused coping are positive self-talk and mindfulness practices.
- Social Coping – Isolation and loneliness can be stresses that lead to relapse. They can also indicate that the proper support system for recovery is not in place. Social coping involves seeking help from others whether they are friends, family members, or a group of people in recovery. Social coping is about building and utilizing a support system.
Finding Help in Learning These Coping Skills
You are never alone in your path to recovery. There are many groups, centers, and programs that are ready to help. Facilities like Granite Recovery Centers can be reached 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Calling can be your first step in recovery, and our Admissions specialists are experts in coping with the many stresses that can lead to relapse. A wide variety of treatments are available, allowing you to determine your own best path to permanent sobriety and a better life. Please give us a call today at 855.712.7784.