Coping Skills for Substance Abuse

Quentin Shires

Quentin has taught psychology and other social science classes at the university level and is considered a doctoral colleague at Capella University.

Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

In this lesson, learn the criteria for substance abuse and how it can progress overtime. Afterwards, discover different coping skills that can be used to help recover from this debilitating illness.

What is Substance Abuse?

Think back to a time where you have witnessed someone overindulging with alcohol and drinking more than what they had set out to do. Oftentimes this person becomes extremely intoxicated and will act irrationally and irresponsibly. Substance abuse is a patterned use of drugs or alcohol, where a substance is taken in amounts that are harmful. Keep in mind that any substance can be abused, so be on the lookout for people using drugs such as alcohol, opiates, marijuana, and cocaine. It is because of this that substance abuse is also known as drug abuse.

Finding other alternative activities to drinking will help ensure you stay clean and sober.

The Progression of Substance Abuse

Substance abuse can be seen as the beginning of an addiction, so it is important to understand how abuse can progress to this level. Because substance abuse is the overindulgence of a patterned use of a drug that is harmful to one's body, if continued to be used at this level, tolerance can set in. Tolerance is defined as a person's diminished response to a drug, which in turn allows for the user to continue to use more and more of a particular drug to cause the same effect. Let me provide you with an example. Suppose your uncle is a heavy drinker, and enjoys drinking five beers every night after work just to relax. If this behavior is repeated routinely, your uncle will gain tolerance to alcohol over time and will eventually have to drink more and more just to get the same feeling of relaxation. It is these patterns of overindulgence that can carry you from substance abuse to addiction. Addiction is defined as a disease, where you will heavily rely on a drug and can't stay sober for extended periods of time.

Coping Strategies and Substance Abuse

Experts agree that individuals who utilize healthy coping strategies are more apt to remain alcohol and drug free than those who do not. Remember, stopping the unhealthy patterned use should not be the only item on your checklist that will help you cope with substance abuse or addiction; rather, it is creating a new life where alcohol and drugs do not play a part.

Avoiding high-risk situations

This may seem like an obvious coping strategy, but avoiding high-risk situations help individuals stay away from environments that focus on drug use. An effective way of monitoring yourself and staying away from high-risk situations is following the acronym, HALT. HALT, standing for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired allow you to monitor your body to see if there are any high-risk situations that could influence or encourage you to use. Addiction experts agree that if a person who suffers from abusive or addictive behavior feels hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, they are more likely to use. Throughout the day, make sure that you are eating healthily, taking care of any angry feelings, ensuring that you are not always spending time alone, and getting plenty of rest and sleep, will help minimize impulsive behaviors.

Support Systems

Developing support systems with people who are also sober and care about you is a great coping strategy. One great way to meet sober people is through the attendance of a 12-step meeting. 12-step meetings are a way to immerse yourself into a culture that demands sobriety, while also providing you with support. Other attendees at these meetings will also be struggling with a substance abuse or addiction issue and will be able to relate to what is going on with your life.


This may not be as easy as it sounds, but relaxing is a great coping strategy to stop you from relapsing and going back to destructive behaviors. At one time or another, we all know that having a glass of wine at the end of the day would help us relax and unwind from a hard day's work; however, now is the time to learn new ways to relax, sans the alcohol or drugs! There are many other ways to relax other than using drugs or drinking. Try meditation techniques, read a book, go for a walk, or even watch television. Find what works for you and provides you the deep feeling of relaxation.

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Additional Activities

Prompts About Coping Skills for Substance Abuse:

Essay Prompt 1:

Write an essay of about one paragraph that defines substance abuse and explains why substance abuse is also known as drug abuse.

Example: Substances that can be abused are often drugs, such as cocaine, so sometimes the terms substance abuse and drug abuse are used interchangeably.

Essay Prompt 2:

In approximately two to three paragraphs, define addiction and explain the role of tolerance in increasing substance abuse.

Example: Tolerance causes people who abuse substances to constantly crave larger and larger amounts of the substance.

Graphic Organizer Prompt:

Make a chart, poster, or some other type of graphic organizer that illustrates the four main coping strategies outlined in the lesson (avoiding high-risk situations, using support systems, relaxing, engaging in sober activities).

Example: For support systems, you could draw a staircase with 12 steps to depict 12-step meetings.

List Prompt 1:

Make a list of at least five ways a person could relax. You can either try to recall some of the examples listed in the lesson, or try to come up with your own.

Example: Lying on a beach.

List Prompt 2:

Make a list of at least five sober activities. Recall the examples given in the lesson, or come up with your own.

Example: Taking a class on a subject of interest.

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