Coping with Stress in Addiction Recovery

There are numerous individuals who use drugs and alcohol to cope with stressful situations and their daily problems. Thus, to help those individuals disengage from constantly looking right to drugs for the answer to their problems, they need to be offered a way to find a solution. In a non 12 step approach to recovery, individuals can learn self-empowering tactics such as maintaining motivation, coping with cravings, managing thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and living a balance life. When individuals learn how to address stressful situations, they can use the tools they’ve learned to come up with a solution to their problems instead of looking to drugs and alcohol as their only solution.

Individuals who face and address stressful problems rather than avoiding them may be less likely to relapse in addiction recovery. Researchers at Pennsylvania State University and Texas Tech University examined the role of coping in moderating cravings among college students in addiction recovery (Cleveland & Harris, 2010).

The college student participants were in a 12-step addiction recovery program, and they kept daily diaries. The total sample included 1,222 diary entries from 55 students (39 males and 16 females). The results showed that daily cravings were predicted by same-day negative affect and negative social experience, and these within-day associations were moderated by individual levels of avoidance coping. These findings show that avoidance coping (avoiding the problem) may influence that daily variation in cravings and risk of relapse in addiction recovery.

Co-author H. Harrington Cleveland of Penn State commented, “Cravings are a strong predictor of relapse. The goal of this study is to predict the variation in substance craving in a person on a within-day basis. Because recovery must be maintained ‘one day at a time,’ researchers have to understand it on the same daily level… Whether you avoid problems or analyze problems not only makes a big difference in your life but also has a powerful impact on someone who has worked hard to stay away from alcohol and other drugs. When faced with stress, addicts who have more adaptive coping skills appear to have a better chance of staying in recovery.”

Cleveland added, “We looked at variations in the number of cravings across days and found that these variations are predicted by stressful experiences. More importantly, we found that the strength of the daily link between experiencing stress and the level of cravings experienced is related to the participants’ reliance on avoidance coping. We found that addicts who deal with stress by avoiding it have twice the number of cravings in a stressful day compared to persons who use problem solving strategies to understand and deal with the stress. Avoidance coping appears to undercut a person’s ability to deal with stress and exposes that person to variations in craving that could impact recovery from addiction.”

Many individuals turn to alcohol and drugs as a form of avoidance coping. Thus, addiction recovery programs should help individuals learn how to directly analyze and cope with stressful problems encountered in daily life.

Cleveland HH, Harris KS. The role of coping in moderating within-day associations between negative triggers and substance use cravings: a daily diary investigation. Addictive Behaviors. 2010; 35(1): 60-63.

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