By Sarah Allen Benton, MS, LMHC, LPC, AADC
As the country begins to reopen, many people are reporting “social fatigue”, interpersonal stress and a lowered tolerance for socializing. This follows a lockdown and over a year of minimal social interaction for many individuals. The reopening and increase in summer events may put individuals with substance use disorders and even those trying to cut back on usage in tempting situations. Therefore, it is important to have key strategies to have in mind prior to attending these gatherings as well as treatment support.
The reopening may also increase cravings to drink alcohol or to use other substances in order to cope with social pressures. Additionally, research indicates that there has been a rise in anxiety and depression symptoms, that could lead individuals to self medicate with alcohol and other substances. It is important to have additional tools to access “in the moment” which can help delay the time between the urge to use and the action.
Here are several strategies for coping with cravings to drink or to use drugs:
1. Choose not to drink or use drugs despite what your mind may be telling you
2. Distract yourself– Physically get away from the situation you are in, and do something else
3. Talk with someone immediately who is supportive (therapist, friend, family member)
4. Avoid isolating yourself, go somewhere safe with someone you trust
5. Engage in another activity take a hot or cold shower, squeeze ice
6. Exercise- go for a brisk walk or run, swim, lift weights, or engage in other cardio activities that require physical exertion
7. Release your emotions in a safe manner- punch a pillow, yell, etc.
8. Pamper yourself by doing something soothing: read, listen to music, take a relaxing bath, look at the moon or clouds
9. Get fresh air- open a window or take a walk in an area that is not near a bar, liquor store, etc.
10. Practice relaxation exercises that involve diaphragmatic breathing allow yourself to experience and observe your feelings and cravings in a detached way (Insight Timer, Headspace app options)
11. Journal- Write your feelings down
12. Read spiritual, sober curious, inspirational or recovery based literature
13. Create a delay- Increase the time and distance between you and a drink or drug
14. Look at your pro/con list of drinking and/or using drugs
15. Pray- serenity prayer, for the strength to stay away from a drink or a drug
16. Eat a meal, snack or drink a non-alcoholic beverage
17. Ride the wave- allow the thoughts to exist in your mind without taking action
18. Call a supportive friend or loved one and talk about your cravings and that you are in a high-risk situation
19. Repeat a positive affirmation or mantra (“This too shall pass”, etc.)- it is harder for your mind to think about alcohol/drugs along with intentional repetitive thoughts
20. Stay away from people, places and things that tempt you while in this vulnerable state of mind
21. Focus on something else- play with your pet, garden, watch TV, read a magazine
22. Think of the consequences- imagine the impact for tomorrow, next week, next year
23. Contact your therapist- share honestly about how you are feeling
24. Observe your thoughts- don’t believe everything that you think
25. Imagery- visualize being in a safe or special place
26. Break time down into manageable increments– commit to staying sober for the hour, minute, second
27. Create structure for your day/evening
The sobriety process can feel overwhelming and it can be helpful to have a roadmap, especially during such unprecedented times. The In-Home Addiction Treatment (IHAT) Model can provide clients and families with over 1 year of services. The Care Team is able to deliver these sessions to homes and to connect clients with local resources as well. By providing treatment services in the home, clients can be better prepared to cope with real-time stressors and to have support with this growth process. The IHAT Institute is training healthcare professionals in CT, MA, NH, ME, FL, IN and now in RI! This is an exciting opportunity for those who want to learn how to implement a quickly expanding and innovative treatment model.