What Is the Cycle of Addiction?
One primary characteristic of a drug and alcohol addiction is that it begins in part from the desire and attempt to cope with some problematic aspect of a person’s life. When a person loses a job, is engaged in a difficult marriage or relationship, is dealing with physical health concerns, or has some other issues come up, the feelings that arise can become overwhelming. When mounting stress and emotional instability or anxiety and depression come into play, a person might start to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. This pattern of toning down feelings and stress with substances leads to addiction.
A person may have confronted their addiction, because of an intervention from friends and family or their own concern about their mental and physical health and the state of their life. But even if they have taken measures to address their addictive behaviors and spent some time in sobriety, the cycle of addiction can still begin anew. Just because a recovering addict may complete rehab treatment, it does not mean that they are cured of addiction or will stay sober for the rest of their life. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 40% to 60% of people who have suffered from addiction will eventually end up relapsing and start back at the beginning of the addiction cycle.
When dealing with a chronic disease like addiction, it is extremely common to relapse. But a relapse does not equate to failure.
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Fueled by compulsion and impulse, the cycle of addiction seems almost impossible to break. This cycle consists of three parts:
- Binge/Intoxication: the compulsion to find and use the substance
- Withdrawal: negative effects that occur without the substance
- Craving/Relapse: a preoccupation and anticipation emerge that often leads to relapse
While it may seem like this cycle will last forever, learning how to deal and cope with certain triggers will make it easier to prevent a relapse.
What Are the Triggers of Addiction?
Triggers are defined as internal or external cues, events, situations, or anything else that can set off a past memory that can cause a person to crave substances. These triggers can be very personal and are usually the cause of relapse.
In addition, not all triggers are negative. Positive events can also be a trigger, like socially drinking at a family celebration or wedding. Some of the most common addiction triggers include:
- Untreated mental illness
- People that are associated with using substances: former drug dealers, friends, co-workers, family members, neighbors
- Places that are associated with using substances: neighborhoods, a friend’s house, bars and clubs, hotels, concerts
- Situations: attending parties, social celebrations, holidays, going out, family gatherings
- Items: paraphernalia, furniture, movies and other media, empty pill bottles
It is critical to identity triggers to recognize early warning signs and prevent a potentially deadly relapse.
What Are Coping Skills for Addiction?
Coping skills for drug and alcohol abuse can help a person take control of their lives and enjoy a higher quality of life. Cardinal Recovery recommends a multi-faceted approach to coping with addiction and we can help people come up with a recovery plan that includes a number of different coping mechanisms and techniques. Recovery does not look the same for any two people, so a combination of coping skills for addiction that are tailored specifically to each person will have the greatest chances of success.
It’s a good idea for people in recovery to learn about and understand the primary copy strategies for drug and alcohol addiction because new situations can always arise. It is helpful to have different tools available to cope with triggers and new scenarios.
Once one can recognize addiction triggers, the right coping skills can help a person navigate the way through them.
10 Coping Skills for Addiction Recovery
Those in recovery shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by having to learn all the coping skills and employ them at once. But it is good to have a variety of skills as a reference guide and to have knowledge of what they are in case the need arises to use them. Ten of the most common coping skills for substance addiction are:
- Attending support group meetings and therapy: Within support groups, many people have experienced similar triggers and experiences and can provide a safe space to discuss feelings with people who truly understand. Support groups can be faith-based or non-religious. There are 12-step programs and non-12-step, depending on what a person prefers. The groups can provide many benefits including the opportunity to interact with others also in recovery. Showing up to meetings requires more accountability, positive reinforcement, and a way to learn about other coping skills from others.
- Have physical distractions: There have been countless studies proving that exercise can greatly increase overall well-being. Spending time doing something physical, whether it be inside or outside, can reduce triggers and negative emotions. Plus, you can replace time that would be spent under the influence with a new hobby or activity.
- Maintain healthy relationships: Having a strong support system is critical to staying healthy and sober. Family and friends can hold you accountable and make sure that you are still on the right track. Many people struggling with addiction tend to withdraw from healthy and positive relationships and engage with others who have the same toxic habits. In sobriety, it’s critical to reinvigorate a person’s social network. Developing positive relationships can lead to greater self-acceptance, self-esteem, and a sense of belonging in the world. They alleviate loneliness and keep a person focused on being out in the world and sharing life with others.
- Practice spirituality: Spirituality can mean many things and doesn’t have to be associated with any particular religion, or even with religion at all. But spiritual practices, or the concept of relating to higher powers in the universe, has been shown to offer wonderful benefits to people in substance abuse recovery. It can offer hope, inspiration, and a sense of purpose, and access to additional support groups.
- Practice mindfulness: Learning how to relax and meditate can often reduce triggers and cravings. Mindfulness has become increasingly popular within the world of addiction treatment and it encourages people to be present in the moment. Many people struggling with addiction are stuck in the past and are unable to focus on the present. With mindfulness, you take situations one at a time, not becoming upset at past events or setting unhealthy expectations for the future. In addition, keeping a journal can provide a space to organize your thoughts. A successful mindfulness practice can help people accept things as they are, bolster impulse control, and reduce impulsivity. Mindfulness practice often goes hand-in-hand with yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, and other healthy calming skills.
- Creating space before actions: Building up the ability to pause before taking an action is incredibly helpful when dealing with addiction recovery. Instead of having a feeling and immediately responding to it with an action, people can learn to pause for a moment and evaluate the situation and their corresponding actions. This process allows a person to observe, anticipate, and think through the meaning and consequences of specific choices.
- Avoid high-risk situations: Avoiding risky situations is one of the most important coping skills for addiction. Many people use the handy acronym “H.A.L.T.” to remember some of the common risks that can lead to thoughts of using. This stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. These might seem like simple concepts, but any one of them can reduce a person’s ability to make wise decisions regarding sobriety. If a person finds themselves in situations that make them feel these ways, it’s best to just try to control what they can. If a person is feeling Lonely or Angry, for instance, they can make plans to see a friend or talk to a therapist or sponsor, instead of ruminating in the feelings alone.
- Be proactive: Sometimes it is impossible to avoid difficult situations in life. In these cases, it’s important to be proactive to avoid the desire to turn to drugs and alcohol. Be mindful and take care to strategize behaviors so that the situation or results aren’t overwhelming. For instance, if a person has to go to a family or work event or party and they are worried that the situation will tempt them to use alcohol or drugs, they could consider bringing along a sober friend or making sure to have an exit strategy if it starts to feel difficult.
- Learning how to say no: In recovery, a person has to learn how to say no in every situation. It’s not always possible to avoid situations where drugs and alcohol might be available or even offered to a person. For this reason, it’s critical to develop the ability to say no, and to have many ways of saying no. Don’t worry about offending people or feeling out of place. For some, it’s helpful to think through what they will say and how they will explain why they don’t want to partake. Some people like to explain that they are sober or in recovery while others prefer to have a different explanation.
- Engage in fun activities: When a person is in active addiction, they often spend most of their time fueling that addiction or recovering from the fallout of addiction. Once a person becomes sober, they might find that their life feels a bit empty because all the habits and activities they once enjoyed have fallen to the wayside. Early recovery is a great time to remember what activities one used to love partaking in and to pursue them again or to look for new hobbies to try. Hobbies might include sports, painting or drawing, writing, reading, gardening, cooking, playing or listening to music, hiking or other outdoor recreation, and more.
In addition to the strategies outlined above, there are a handful of professional programs and treatment centers that are designed to help cope with triggers. While relapse may be common, it is preventable by practicing these skills. Whether you are just beginning the journey to recovery or have been sober for some time, it’s always important to continue to build up good coping skills.
If you’re concerned about your own or a loved one’s drug or alcohol abuse, the recovery professionals at Cardinal Recovery can offer you the resources and help you need.