Coping Skills in Recovery

Life today is filled with many different challenges, conflict, loss, pain, and stress. It doesn’t matter who we are, nobody goes through life untouched. Along with these things, some people also experience significant trauma, whether it is a childhood of abuse, tragic loss of a parent, or some other kind of severe traumatic experience.

Regardless of how we grew up, what matters is how we deal with those things. We all learn different ways to handle them as we get older. Some of the ways that may have been used to deal with these situations is to use drugs or alcohol. Alcohol and substance use is one of the most popular and most destructive ways of coping with life’s stressors for many adolescents and adults.

With long term recovery being one of our goals, it’s important to take a look at the way we deal with different situations in our lives. One of the many keys to long term recovery is making sure that bad or negative coping skills have been identified and replace them with new and healthy skills. Learning how to implement these new skills into our live takes time and effort, but doing so is not impossible.

Learning new and healthy habits can keep us away from denial, avoidance, displacement, procrastination, as well as many other bad or negative coping skills. Learning these habits can also avoid being Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired (or HALT).

Recovery is all about learning how to deal with the situations and circumstances that drugs and alcohol used to help us forget or get past. Finding and practicing healthier ways to deal with these situations is extremely important if we are going to have a chance to put together any type of long term sobriety. It isn’t just about relapse prevention though. While it can be tempting to just avoid unhealthy situations, techniques can be developed which can teach us a completely new way of living our life.

But it takes time to develop these skills. Expecting someone to learn how to consistently implement these abilities after just a few months of sobriety is unrealistic. These take practice and applying them to our lives is a process.

Here are some techniques that can be learned in early recovery to help deal with life’s stressors:


Acceptance is one of the most important tools in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. There are many things that are out of your control, but if you can accept that everything is the way it’s supposed to be at all times, you can truly attain inner peace. This is often easier said than done. If you’re like most alcoholics and addicts, you want what you want when you want it. You want to be in charge of your own life and maybe even the lives of those around you. You want to get your own way, and you may get pretty upset or unsettled when you don’t.

Life throws curve balls all the time that may not be exactly in one’s favor. To correctly apply acceptance, there is a need to find a balance between acceptance and change and then applied through courage. These types of actions and behaviors can be applied daily and have a great outcome on one’s life. If these simple ideas are put into play, the result will be a much more peaceful with less need to escape by using harmful substances.

Create a structured schedule

In treatment, each day is structured with specific meal times, counselling sessions, and even planned leisure time and activities. Keep this up in early recovery. When your days lack structure it is easy to fall back into old routines and habitual thinking patterns — which are not favorable to long term recovery. But creating structure on your own, outside of treatment, can be overwhelming.

First of all, keep it simple. ‘Structured’ does not necessarily mean busy, but it does mean planned. Creating unrealistic to-do lists will only lead to repeated failure, stress, and negative feelings. Instead, choose a maximum of three important things that you want to accomplish in a day and focus on structuring your day around these activities, and create a routine.

Approaching each day spontaneously may sound enticing, but in early recovery you are still practicing your recovery skills and having a daily routine will help you stay focused. Try to wake up at the same time every day and complete a simple morning routine. If you are working, follow the same routine each day before and after work — this will help regulate your schedule and environment.

Being honest with yourself and others

Integrity is a very important trait to develop in early recovery. Without honesty, there is little hope of continued long lasting sobriety. But like everything else, this is something that has to be practiced. When living in active addiction, dishonesty was a necessary part of being able to drink or use. This usually means that we come into recovery with many years of practice and habits that all focused on dishonesty. Getting to a place where this can change and we are able to look at dealing with things in an honest and open way takes time.

As addicts and alcoholics, we try to avoid negative consequences and the easiest way for us to do this is often by not being honest with ourselves. We have to practice honesty and over time we see that life actually goes much better for us when we are living with integrity. It doesn’t happen overnight though and we learn this process by making mistakes, getting honest and slowly changing our character.

Talking to other people about what you are going through is one of the most important things a person can do for their mental health. Keeping anxiety and fear bottled up inside is a recipe for disaster, but by expressing how you feel to another person, you are better able to cope with life.

Taking ownership of mistakes

One thing that doesn’t change, is that we make mistakes our whole life. When we start on our road to recovery, we are bound to make more. This is ok! The important thing is being able and willing to take ownership of them, especially if we are going to stay sober. In early recovery this is difficult. Everything inside of us screams to not take ownership and to blame someone else. But if we want to achieve long term sobriety, we have to be willing to take ownership when we make a mistake and be willing to take actions to make it right.

Furthermore, this should be done without feeling any shame or guilt. As addicts and alcoholics, we live in a world of extremes. Either it’s not our fault at all, or we’re terrible people riddled with shame. Neither of these are true. Recovery is about finding a balance and learning not to believe or live in these black and white conditions. This is contrary to how we have dealt with all the situations and stressors in our lives up to this point and it takes some time to develop.

Practicing gratitude

Finally, we have to learn to practice gratitude in our lives in order to stay sober. This is partly a change in our perception and partly a change in our behavior. Gratitude is an action word. It is not enough to just be thankful – we have to live in our gratitude. This means demonstrating it by the way that we conduct ourselves and live our lives. In early recovery, we have often not yet tapped into gratitude and still feel like the world has wronged us and owes us. Only through time and experience are we able to shift this perception and then incorporate it into our behavior.

Once we take this approach we find ourselves much more able to enjoy the little things that happen on a daily basis. We also find ourselves more connected with others and enjoying the way that it feels to live a good life. Again though, we cannot be expected to be in this place in our first few months in recovery. This lifestyle change takes practice and has to be consistently worked at!


Probably one of the greatest ways to cope with life is through prayer and meditation. While both can do wonders on their own, when both are implemented into an individual’s life, it creates an ‘unshakeable foundation for living.’ Through prayer, you can talk to your higher power about what is bothering you and in meditation, you can silently wait for the answer. With prayer and meditation, there is nothing on this planet too big for you to handle.

Though these are often associated with religious practice, you don’t have to be religious to enjoy its many benefits. It can be as simple as taking a few minutes to find a quiet place and sit in silence, focusing on nothing more than your breathing. When practiced regularly, meditation provides numerous mental and physical benefits by inducing deep relaxation, enhancing mindfulness, and reducing stress.


Sometimes you just need to burn off some extra energy. This is where exercise comes in and if you know that you are a person who has a lot of nervous energy, and in the past you used drugs in order to deal with this, then exercise can do wonders for your overall wellbeing.

Exercise is hands-down one of the best coping mechanisms. In addition to helping you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, sleep better, and reduce your risk of developing a multitude of serious health problems, regular exercise also improves your emotional well-being. Aerobic exercise (e.g. jogging, brisk walking, cycling, and swimming) has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. It also reduces stress, boosts self-confidence, and enhances self-esteem. If you find a type of exercise you enjoy and / or do it with a partner, you’ll be much more likely to stick with it. (Always check with your doctor before embarking on an exercise program.)


While this may not sound like a coping mechanism, it is because it allows you to meet with an objective third party who can help you cope with whatever it is you are going through. Sometimes people in recovery need this extra support and therapy can really help in sobriety.

Attend Sober Support Groups or meetings

A key to coping with your recovery is to have the support of friends and family. In order to stay accountable through your recovery journey, it’s also important to attend regular meetings and build up your support system. Trying to stay sober can be overwhelming and it can get lonely. With a strong support network, you’ll gain a sense of inclusion and belonging. You can also find support from co-workers, other addiction recovery groups, and even social media groups that are dedicated to providing strength and encouragement to those who need it most.

Creating a support network

Left to our own devices, often times our minds can do strange things, but by having a solid support network to bounce ideas off of, or to just help us through the rough times in life, we can learn to cope with anything.

Having people you can trust and rely on to help you through tough times of dealing with stress and anger and negative thinking, can make all the difference in the world. Keeping your stress levels low and maintaining positivity will help to improve your overall well-being, as well as your mental health and emotional stability.


Self-care isn’t a one time deal. It’s the constant repetition of many tiny habits, which together soothe you and make sure you’re at your best—emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. The best way to do this is to implement tiny self-care habits every day. To regularly include in your life a little bit of love and attention for your own body, mind, and soul.

Focusing on the positive

Relapses are often triggered by negative thinking.  One of the best ways to avoid a downward spiral is to focus on the positive.  Sometimes you may have to dig deep to find the silver lining, but it’s there.  This doesn’t mean you should trivialize or minimize negative things; rather, acknowledge them and then look for the positive.

Writing or journaling

When talk and exercise fail, writing your thoughts down can be the answer to your problems. There is something about putting pen to paper that just slows your mind down and being able to see what ails you in black and white on the page sometimes takes the power away from the situation.

There’s a reason therapists recommend journaling  –  the act of writing down your thoughts and feelings  –  to their clients.  Journaling is a great way to express your feelings  –  both positive and negative  –  in a safe, private place.  Doing so on a regular basis will help you gain insight into yourself.  Expressing yourself on paper also helps ensure that you don’t keep negative feelings bottled up.

Avoid procrastinating

Now is the time to take control of your life. Stop leaving it for tomorrow. Start that project you keep putting off, go take those arts & craft lesson you’ve always wanted to take or simply start setting small goals for yourself every day. Take it one day at a time, but start living now!

Set goals and have healthy rewards for reaching those goals

While taking it one day at a time is a useful approach in early recovery, it is also important to set short and long-term goals. Having goals creates hope. Of course, staying sober for 30, then 60, then 90 days are worthwhile goals, but think outside of sobriety itself and set some personal goals for 1, 5, and 10 years down the line.

First brainstorm and write down any personal goals that come to mind no matter how vague. As time goes by you can transform these ideas into more realistic and measurable goals. For example, at first you may think you want to eliminate debt. As you gain confidence in your money management skills you will see realistically how much you can decrease your debt in one year and can make a more specific goal.

Alternatively, set a goal for something you have always wanted to do but could not when you were in active addiction. Save enough money to take a holiday or road trip you have always wanted to take on your 1 year sobriety anniversary. This will keep you motivated to save money and stay sober.