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Do You Use Alcohol or Drugs As a Coping Mechanism?

When facing difficulties and stressful situations, it can be tempting to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. Even if you don’t intend to use substances as a coping mechanism, it can happen without you realizing it. If left unchecked, coping by way of substances can turn into a full-blown addiction. Alcohol or drugs may be your coping mechanism if:

  • You always need to “take the edge off” after work with a few drinks.
  • You can’t be intimate with someone else unless you’re drunk or high.
  • You feel you can’t be yourself at a party without being buzzed.
  • You drink or use drugs to help you get to sleep.

A coping mechanism is defined as anything that helps you through difficult times. Common difficulties include the loss of a loved one, a stressful time at work or a rough patch in a relationship. You may also use drugs or alcohol to cope with mental health problems like anxiety or bipolar disorder. There are a variety of coping mechanisms for both short- and long-term solutions. Coping mechanisms can be healthy or unhealthy. Healthy coping skills include:

  • Exercising
  • Talking to a friend or loved one
  • Taking a bath
  • Reading a book
  • Listening to music
  • Journaling
  • Pick up a new hobby

An unhealthy coping skill may make you feel better for a time, but ultimately causes more harm than good. These include:

  • Drug or alcohol consumption
  • Reckless gambling
  • Unsafe or compulsive sexual behaviors
  • Excessive spending
  • Dysfunctional eating (either restricting food intake or overeating)

Unhealthy coping skills can overshadow the original problem. For example, the toll of alcohol abuse may become worse than the anxiety it suppresses. While regular exercise, for example, can improve your long-term mental health, drinking alcohol gives you only a short-term feeling of normalcy. Once you are sober, the mental illness symptoms return, often more intense than before. People also use alcohol or drugs to cope with setbacks and hardships, such as abuse, anger, guilt and shame. Harmful methods of coping can become habitual, so it’s important to develop healthy means of coping instead. If you already use harmful coping mechanisms, treatment can help replace them with healthier ones that instead promote healing.

The Downward Spiral into Addiction

In the beginning, it may seem harmless to reach for a tranquilizer or glass of wine to numb emotional pain. As this coping mechanism becomes a habit, you learn to depend on these substances to get through your day. This is how addiction develops. As it progresses, you need more alcohol or higher doses of drugs to produce the same mind-numbing effects. Using drugs as a coping mechanism can be a sign of underlying issues. Below are a few root causes of addiction:

  • Physical, emotional or sexual abuse
  • Witnessing abuse or domestic violence
  • Childhood abuse or neglect
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorders or any other condition producing high stress levels
  • Depression or other mental disorder(s)

Drugs and alcohol affect the chemical messengers in the brain. Many substances, like heroin and cocaine, increase levels of serotonin and/or dopamine. This results in intense feelings of pleasure and euphoria. Other drugs affect the central nervous system. Stimulants increase activity in your central nervous system. Depressants, like alcohol, slow it down. The influx of pleasant and/or numbing sensations are what can lead to addiction. Substance use gets worse when you use it to cope because your underlying emotions or stressors aren’t gone; they’re just temporarily numbed. Once the drugs wear off, the pain comes rushing back, creating a need to again use alcohol or drugs to cope. Due to tolerance, this often means you take more of the drug over time. It becomes a cycle of using substances to cope that leads to a strong dependency.

A Better Way

Learning healthy coping mechanisms early on can discourage unhealthy alternatives. Ideally, explore healthy methods even before you need them. If you already use unhealthy ways of coping, it’s never too late to replace them with safer and restorative options. Drug and alcohol addiction treatment is your best bet for processing the underlying causes of your substance use. Here you will learn to implement the healthy coping skills that work for you. The Ranch PA is an exclusive addiction treatment center suited to help you evaluate your current ways of coping. Our experienced clinicians help you get to the root of painful emotions and trauma and can walk you through the healing process. We offer an array of holistic approaches to coping skills and help you choose what works best for you. These include music and art activities, fitness, yoga, meditation and many more. The following treatment programs help facilitate adaptive—healthier and more constructive—coping skills:

Drug & Alcohol Detox

Not everyone who struggles with substance abuse needs detox. For those who do, The Ranch PA offers medically monitored detox to help you through the often-dangerous process of detoxing. This program introduces several drug-free coping skills to help you through treatment. These may include massage, biofeedback and acupuncture. Medically supervised detox prepares you for the difficult work of addiction treatment ahead. It also provides necessary medical care, which may include medications to help you detox safely.

Drug & Alcohol Rehab

Our drug and alcohol rehab offers comprehensive substance abuse treatment that focuses on each individual. Treatment includes:

Approaches like psychodrama, biofeedback and others are used to help you fully delve into the root of your unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

This treatment program is for those with a dual diagnosis, or co-occurring disorders. Drug or alcohol abuse can occur along with a mental health disorder like depression, anxiety or PTSD. It’s common for those with a dual diagnosis to use alcohol or drugs as coping mechanisms. Substances can help people avoid, numb or distract themselves from their mental health symptoms. If you find yourself needing to use substances in order to get through daily life, it’s possible you have a dual diagnosis. Through this program at The Ranch PA, clients learn how substance use and mental health disorders interact with each other. They learn how to better manage their symptoms using coping skills that are healthy.

Pain Management

Pain management care can be added to either our drug and alcohol rehab or dual diagnosis program. Both programs explore harmful ways of managing pain, such as through the abuse of pain medication, as well as healthy coping alternatives. These may include exercise, acupuncture, spiritual exploration or hypnosis. Our clinicians work with a board-certified addiction medicine and osteopathic physician. If you’re tired of the endless cycle of using drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism, consider the difference drug and alcohol treatment can make for you. Our caring staff and therapists at The Ranch PA will help you discover coping skills that make your life healthier and more fulfilling. If you’re interested in starting this journey, contact us today for a free consultation.   (Photo via)

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