According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 19.7 million Americans (aged 12 or older) battled with substance abuse in 2017. Now, substance abuse is defined as dependence or over-indulgence in addictive substances — such as alcohol or drugs. Unfortunately, a number of people turn to these substances to cope with complications in their lives, but this does not necessarily mean that they have a substance abuse disorder.
A substance abuse disorder comes up when the person becomes dependent on that substance in their life. Sadly, the timeline from having a drink or using drugs to “relax” or “destress” to developing a substance abuse disorder is typically quite short and the progression is difficult to avoid. So, if you find yourself always turning to a particular substance to help ease the challenges of life, what else can you do to cope with what is going on in your life?
In this article, we’re going to dive into seven different healthy coping mechanisms that you can turn to rather than that drink that always seems to be calling out to you.
Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Everyone will respond differently to certain experiences as well as coping mechanisms, so the important thing to remember is that you are trying to find something that works for you. If one of these ideas doesn’t work for you, don’t worry, there is something out there that will do the trick!
So, without further ado, let’s get into some healthy coping mechanisms that you can use rather than turning to addictive substances.
One of the hardest parts of coping with anything that is going on in our lives is dealing with the myriad of emotions that difficult situations bring. More often than not, we try to ignore our feelings and or drown them out with less-than-healthy coping mechanisms, such as drinking or drugs. Unfortunately, this typically only leads to worsening problems down the line rather than fixing anything.
So, rather than trying to numb your feelings, try giving yourself the time and space to truly acknowledge them. This can be hard, especially if you are not accustomed to recognizing your feelings. But in the long run, the practice of addressing your feelings head-on can be much more effective than trying to bury them. If you aren’t sure where to begin, you can try writing out a list of what you are feeling in your journal.
While we do not recommend ignoring your feelings for a long period of time, we realize that you may not be able to deal with too many emotions at once — especially if you are experiencing a lot in your life. This is where a little healthy distraction can come in handy. Rather than dwelling on your feelings, you can create some space between yourself and the emotions by focusing your attention somewhere else. This is a great (and healthier) strategy to use if you feel yourself wanting to turn to drugs or alcohol to dampen your feelings for a while.
Truthfully there are hundreds of ways that you can distract yourself. The key is to find the best type of distraction for you. For some people, this may be listening to music, reading a book, or taking some time to journal. For others, it may be going for a walk or hitting the gym. We’ll jump into a few great distraction-based coping mechanisms throughout these ideas to help you figure out what might work for you.
Focus on Self-Care
Getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals, incorporating exercise into your day, and making an effort to reduce stress are all essential parts of any good coping strategy. Realistically, without doing all of these things, you will have a hard time effectively healing and moving on to a new part of your life. Our bodies are smart, but they need to be shown that we care for them if we want them to care for us.
So, before you turn to less healthy coping mechanisms like drugs or alcohol (or if you are trying to lessen your dependence on these substances), check in with your daily habits. Are you getting enough water? What about your sleep schedule? Have you been eating nutritious meals?
Pick Up a Hobby
If you already have a hobby, great! Try making time in your schedule for this hobby. Whether you love journaling, knitting, reading a book, even taking a relaxing bath, or giving yourself a spa day, a hobby is an excellent way to give yourself the break you need. If you don’t already have a hobby, or you’re looking to add a new one to your repertoire, that is also great! There are so many fun, and interesting hobbies that you can pick up that can really help enrich your life. Truthfully, life can be incredibly stressful, and when we constantly move from one task to another without taking the time to indulge our own desires, we can quickly become overwhelmed and burn out.
Hobbies can be a great way to give yourself a well-deserved reprise in your daily life where you can simply be yourself and enjoy the things that make you happy. This is a great alternative to turning to alcohol or other drugs that may make you feel better in the moment but do not do anything to enrich your mind or body.
We’ve mentioned it before, and we’ll mention it again. Exercise does wonders for the mind and body. Not only does it help us maintain a healthy weight, but it also releases endorphins that help improve our moods and relieve stress.
If you’re feeling like reaching for alcohol or drugs to help ease some of the tension in your life, try going out for a walk instead. Maybe follow a YouTube yoga or workout video that you can do in your own home or use that gym membership you’ve been meaning to use more.
Alter Your Approach to Problems
People love puzzles. We love solving problems and organizing things that are seemingly random and chaotic. If you are a puzzle-lover, altering your view on what is happening can help shift your perspective into “problem-solving” mode. This can help you keep a level head when considering your situation and help you more effectively address any feelings that come up during your experiences.
Talk to Someone
Sometimes the best way to work through what is going on in your life is to talk it out. Sometimes talking to someone helps you realize things that you may otherwise have missed, and sometimes it helps you come up with new solutions altogether. We know that it can be scary to open yourself up to others and even scarier to ask for help, even if you need it. But realistically, there are simple things in life that we can’t do alone. Humans are inherently social creatures, and because of this, talking with others can be an incredibly effective way to relieve stress and solve problems.
But, we understand that not everyone may feel comfortable talking about what is going on in their lives with friends or family members — especially if the situation in question involves one or more members of these groups. Luckily, this is where talking to a therapist or counselor can come in handy. A therapist can provide a safe, judgment-free environment where you can voice your worries and stressors and come up with healthy solutions and coping mechanisms that work for you.