Learning effective coping mechanisms when faced with triggers is a critical element of successful recovery. Coping mechanism are personal action plans that persons in recovery employ when faced with “people, places, and things” that could lead to either a slip or relapse. Coping strategies involve the identification of those situations that serve as triggers, why those events serves as a motivator for drug use, and what actions the recovering person can take to avoid relapse.
Relapse is not a single event but a process that begins with the decision to use drugs or alcohol. As such, relapse begins with a thought. Thoughts give rise to emotions which are the precursor to action. An effective coping strategy can be as simple as identifying that first thought, understanding why it arises, and making a conscious decision to ignore it. Far from being out of one’s control, people always have a choice when faced with trigger situations; i.e. “to use or not to use”.
Coping mechanisms can also involve physical behavior. Persons in recovery are advised to stay away from those “people, places, and things” that are connected to their prior addiction. Triggers can be small things, such as the time of day, music or scents. Triggers may also be found in the workplace in the form stress from too much work, constructive criticism of work product or even perceived insult by colleagues or supervisors. These types of situations make it very tempting for that person to use again so that their recovery becomes severely comprised. An effective coping strategy would be to seek the support of supervisors to discuss their work-related stressors. When managing a person in recovery it is important to regularly “check-in” to see how the person is doing. These periodic reviews will catch problematic warning signs of relapse (e.g. frequent absences or lateness, irritability, etc.)
Some experts within the addictions field believe that relapse occurs in three stages: emotional, cognitive, and physical. Coping strategies can be particularly effective in forestalling relapse during stages one and two. Behaviors associated with the first stage, emotional relapse, include frustration, guild, anger, irritability, mood swings, anxiety, as well as unhealthy sleeping patterns. Emotional relapse is often thought to be the first stage of relapse and it is the stage where coping mechanisms can be most effective. A good strategy to avoid relapse at this stage is to help the employee connect with healthy peers EAP counselors, family and friends who can offer healthy alternatives, provide support, and build a repertoire of coping mechanism. These people can also help build the person’s self-esteem by validating their worth. Self-esteem is an essential component of relapse prevention since it is only with self-love that the person in recovery can make healthy life choices.
Cognitive relapse, the second state of relapse, refers to the thoughts that a person harbors with regard to relapse. In this stage the person has not started using again but is engaging in what is commonly referred to as “stinking thinking”. It typically starts as a passing thought but, over time, becomes obsessive. Behaviors associated with cognitive relapse include lying, visualization of drug use, nostalgia for the “old times”, and absences from work to spend time with friends who are continuing to use. Perhaps most significant behavior during this stage is the rationalization that the person begins to use for relapse witch such self-talk as:” I have this under control”. “What harm could just one drink, hit, etc. do”? “I can stop anytime I want to”.
Coping strategies for cognitive relapse are similar those for emotional relapse. It is important for the person to reach out to family, EAP counselors, and non-using friends for encouragement and support. When thoughts associated with relapse become obsessive it is important to take actions that provide a healthy alternative such as exercise or participating in other enjoyable activities. The dual benefits of connecting with others are that they can make clear the consequences of relapse (e.g. job loss) and connection counters the isolative tendency of those in recovery.
To help employees who may be evidencing warning signs of relapse it is helpful to institute periodic drug testing to serve as both a preventative measure and to ensure that the employee gets the help s/he needs in a timely manner. CMM technology offers some of the best drug and alcohol testing equipment on the market today such as Lion breathalyser tests and Oraline drug tests. We have experts available 24/7 to answer your questions and order testing equipment. We invite you to contact us today at (+61) 1300 79 70 30 to learn more about keeping a drug-free workplace and helping those with an alcohol problem obtain needed assistance.
McCormick, R.A. Aggression and hostility in substance abusers: The relationship to abuse patterns, coping style, and relapse triggers. AddictiveBehaviours, 1995 – Elsevier
Rohsenow, D.J., Monti, Peter, m et.al. Motivational enhancement and coping skills training for cocaine abusers: effects on substance use outcomes. Addiction. Volume 99, Issue 7, pages 862–874, July 2004