Man considers substance abuse as a coping mechanism

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, using substance abuse as a coping mechanism can turn into a full-blown addiction.

Substance abuse treatment programs can help you break the cycle of addiction and learn how to cope with difficult situations without turning to drugs or alcohol.

Signs You’re Using Substance Abuse as a Coping Mechanism

Alcohol or drugs may be your coping mechanism if:

  • You always need to take the edge off after work with a few drinks.
  • You’re unable to 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 concerns like anxiety or bipolar disorder.

Different Types of Coping Mechanisms

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
  • Picking 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)

How Substance Abuse Can Turn 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 underlying 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 health concerns

Drugs and alcohol affect the chemical messengers in the brain. Many substances, like heroin and cocaine, increase levels of serotonin 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 or numbing sensations is 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.

Better Coping Mechanisms

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.

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. 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 at 717.969.9126 for a free consultation.

Scroll to Top