Without Obligation.
Discreet & Confidential.

10 Coping Skills for Addiction Recovery

Learn more about ten key coping skills for addiction recovery and how they can help you maintain sobriety.

What Are Coping Skills for Addiction?

Coping skills are tactics that people employ in order to help them deal with difficult or uncomfortable situations. Coping with a substance abuse disorder is an extremely difficult process and involves learning various coping mechanisms to maintain sobriety.

There is a difference between healthy and unhealthy coping skills. The use of drugs or alcohol to avoid uncomfortable emotions is considered an unhealthy coping skill. Learning and practicing healthy coping skills for addiction recovery can help you deal with stressful situations in your life and assist you in avoiding using drugs or alcohol – paving the way for long-term, sustainable sobriety.1

What Is the Cycle of Addiction?

The cycle of addiction refers to the recurring behavioral and mental patterns of substance abuse and addiction. This cycle can prevent you from attempting recovery and remaining sober. The stages in the cycle of addiction include addiction, withdrawal, and relapse. These will be detailed below.

Stages of the Addiction Cycle

It is important to recognize the stages of the addiction cycle: addiction, withdrawal, and relapse.


In the addiction stage of substance abuse, you may go through several other phases before reaching this stage. That can include initial use, abuse, tolerance, dependence, and then finally full-blown addiction.

The signs of addiction include:2

  • Needing an increased amount of the substance to experience the same result
  • Experiencing urges and cravings to use
  • Spending a great deal of time seeking out or using the substance
  • Being unable to meet home, work, or school obligations
  • Continuing to use despite the negative consequences
  • Wanting to quit but not being able to successfully quit
  • Using the substance despite it placing you in unsafe or harmful situations
  • Continuing to use despite worsening mental, emotional, or physical health caused by use
  • Cutting back on social situations and continuing to use despite relationship problems it has caused


In the withdrawal stage of substance use, any attempt to quit or stop using will result in withdrawal symptoms. Some withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Tremors
  • Body aches
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations

The withdrawal symptoms will be dependent upon the substance used.


The final stage in the cycle of addiction is the relapse stage. This stage often occurs as the withdrawal symptoms become too overwhelming or the cravings and urges are too strong. At this point, you will feel the desire and may act on your urges, and use again in order to reclaim the physical and emotional state felt while using.3

What Are Relapse Triggers?

In addiction recovery, it is not uncommon for individuals to experience triggers and relapse. A goal of addiction recovery programs is to teach individuals how to identify their triggers and learn coping skills for addiction recovery in order to prevent relapse. Triggers can be both internal and external.

Internal Triggers

Internal triggers are often more difficult to deal with than external triggers as you cannot avoid internal triggers. Ways of dealing with addiction involve being able to identify and cope with internal triggers. These types of triggers are:

  • Negative feelings: This can include guilt, shame, depression, anger, loneliness, fear, hate, jealousy, irritation, and agitation. These feelings are extremely dangerous in addiction as they can cause someone to fall into a downward spiral.
  • Normal feelings: Normal feelings are those that people experience day to day. These feelings can take a toll on us, and coping with addiction involves being able to address these feelings. Normal feelings include boredom, embarrassment, tiredness, nervousness, loneliness, sadness, stress, and frustration.
  • Positive feelings: These can also be triggers for many people. Celebration is often a trigger for use. Positive feelings include happiness, sexual arousal, passion, and confidence.

External Triggers

External triggers are defined as people, places, activities, situations, or things that remind you of using. These can be people you would use with, places you would use, or objects involved in your use, such as paraphernalia. Coping skills in recovery may include ways to avoid these external triggers. Strategies for dealing with addiction can include identifying what your external triggers may be.6

Coping skills in recovery will help you address and identify your internal and external triggers. Identifying triggers is an important step in creating addiction recovery strategies.

What is Relapse?

This stage of the cycle of addiction is when coping with cravings in recovery is important. Relapse is defined by re-engaging in behaviors that you had previously stopped. In recovery from addiction, this means re-engaging in drug or alcohol use.4

In addiction treatment, there are three different types of relapse: emotional relapse, mental relapse, and physical relapse.

Emotional Relapse

Emotional relapse often starts before you even begin using drugs or alcohol again. You may not even be thinking about using drugs or alcohol at this stage. However, you may start to feel lonely, restless, and isolated. At this stage of relapse in recovering from drug addiction, you may start to disengage from addiction treatment. The best relapse prevention coping skills involve being able to recognize when you are starting to isolate yourself and bottle up emotions.

Mental Relapse

Mental relapse is the stage in which you start to convince yourself that no one will know if you start to use again. You start considering using substances again in order to relieve any emotional or physical distress caused by an attempt at recovery.

This stage of relapse is when the cravings start to kick in. In mental relapse, you may start looking for justifications or excuses as to why it would be okay for you to start using again under certain circumstances. This stage is one of the most important stages to have strong recovery coping skills.5

Physical Relapse

The final stage of relapse is physical relapse. In this stage, you have actively engaged in using drugs or alcohol again. This stage can also involve actively taking steps to obtain the substance, such as driving to a liquor store or contacting your dealer.

At this stage, you may even believe that you can use “only a little” or in a controlled way. Coping with addiction means you may need to recognize high-risk situations in recovery and learn how to cope with these situations before they escalate.

10 Coping Skills for Addiction Recovery

It can be difficult to learn and focus on creating and using coping techniques while trying to recover from addiction. However, it is extremely important in drug addiction recovery, or any addiction recovery program, to invest time and energy into learning recovery coping skills. Ten examples of coping skills for addiction recovery are detailed below.

Learn to Relax in Any Situation

One of the reasons that people may use drugs or alcohol is to relax and unwind. One of the most positive coping skills for substance abuse is learning how to relax. Relaxing may look like deep breathing, listening to music, taking a warm bath or shower, going for a walk, reading, or writing.

Wait to Respond

Take a moment before acting and responding. Using drugs and alcohol can lead to increased impulsive behavior, which can result in negative consequences. Therefore, it is important to learn how to pause before reacting, especially when feeling stressed out or overwhelmed.

Before you decide to act or react, take a couple of minutes to breathe and think about how you want to respond. In drug addiction recovery, this can also be referred to as “playing the tape through.” Give yourself a moment to consider the consequences that your actions may have before acting.

Be Honest with Yourself & Others

As lying often accompanies addiction, a necessary coping technique in recovery is learning to be honest with yourself and other people in your life. The more honest you can be, the more accountability you will have to remain in recovery.7

Mindfulness & Meditation

Practice learning to stay in the present moment with mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness and meditation give you the ability to slow down and assess your emotions without judgment. Other benefits of using meditation and mindfulness are better self-control, more flexibility in life, improved concentration, more compassion, and reduced stress.8

Stay Busy

In active addiction, you were probably spending a significant amount of time finding, obtaining, and using the substance. This means that in recovery, you may find you have a lot more free time. Too much downtime can be hazardous to your recovery, so it is important to find ways to keep yourself busy. Find a new hobby, learn a new language, take a class, etc. Just find healthy, positive ways to fill your time.

Keep a Daily Journal and Gratitude List

Journaling is an extremely beneficial coping mechanism in recovery. It provides a way to express and release your thoughts and feelings. Journaling is also a good way to keep an inventory of what is happening in your life, what you are grateful for, and areas in which you may be able to improve.

Exercise Regularly & Live an Active Lifestyle

Exercising and staying active are incredibly beneficial coping skills in recovery. Exercise helps your body release endorphins that make you feel good and has been shown to be beneficial in boosting mood, increasing energy, and improving sleep.

Build a Sober Support Network

Both addiction and recovery can be isolating. Peer support is essential in recovery. Build a network of sober and supportive individuals to help you stay on track, remain accountable, and provide you support.

Avoid Triggers

Learning to avoid triggers is an important recovery skill. Creating new habits that do not include the people, places, activities, situations, and objects that remind you of using will help assist your recovery.

Help Others

Giving back and volunteering are great ways to improve your confidence and self-esteem while also making you feel positive. As you become stronger and more stable in your recovery, seek out ways to help others and give back. One of the most common ways to help others is to become a sponsor in a self-help program.

Get Help For Developing Skills for Long-Term Sobriety at San Diego Detox

If you or someone you know is struggling with long-term recovery, San Diego Detox can help you to maintain your sobriety. At San Diego Detox, we strive to make the recovery process as comfortable, constructive, and enjoyable as possible.

We provide a comprehensive, holistic, person-centered program that involves individualized treatment for addiction and mental health. For more information on how you can learn to develop the appropriate coping skills for long-term sobriety, contact us at 619.433.6560.