Preventing Relapse with Coping Skills


Leaving your comfort zone for the unknown is often intimidating. You don’t know what to expect or how you will react to different situations. One of the most important tools you will utilize in an addiction treatment program is coping skills to prevent relapse. Relapse is possible at any stage of recovery, so it’s important to learn coping skills early on and to use them throughout your recovery journey.


When you enter treatment, you typically attend group, individual, 12-step meetings and holistic sessions. While you are learning to identify your triggers, recognize unhealthy habits or discover how to cope with mental health issues, you can begin to incorporate relapse prevention skills. After you leave active treatment, you can bolster your sobriety by attending aftercare groups, 12-step meetings and ask for help when needed. Addiction treatment is like any other effort to change your lifestyle. There are times when you fall back into old habits because they are comfortable. If you do make a mistake and fall into old patterns, you have relapsed. Relapse is when you begin to use a substance again after being sober for a period of time. Making a mistake is normal and you can go back to treatment to restart your sobriety. Whether you make a mistake or revisit old habits, you can benefit from healthy coping skills.

Coping Skills

Coping skills are the methods you learned to address uncomfortable or stressful situations that can cause you to relapse. Often these skills help a person face the circumstances, assess the appropriate response and respond in a healthy manner. When you use your coping skills, you are employing healthy thoughts and behaviors to guide you through internal and external stress-inducing circumstances. 

While in treatment, you learn various life and self-management skills. Before you leave treatment, review them with your therapist. The time you spend with your therapist is also the time to discuss any worries or fears about returning to your routine or relapsing. You can revise your goals and put in place a system to help you feel less stressed, anxious or depressed. 

The skills are often stable responses or habits that can become consistent. There are generally two forms of coping skills:

  • Reactive coping: This is how you react after a situation arises. Reactive coping is used in environments that can change or are fluid.
  • Proactive coping: This form of coping occurs when you plan to reduce future stress. When you use proactive coping skills, you are in situations that are structured; therefore, more comfortable to predict how to react to an event.

The Categories of Coping

Your therapist can teach you the different ways to cope with events. Each of the categories of coping teaches you how to employ relapse prevention skills.

  • Problem-focused: You can use skills that aid you in facing the issue that causes your stress. This style of coping includes planning, self-discipline and blocking outside situations.
  • Emotion-focused: Your therapist will aid you in replacing negative emotions about a situation with healthy emotions. Some of the ways you can respond positively are acceptance, finding a form of spirituality, the ability to laugh at yourself or the situation and changing harmful thoughts to healthy thoughts.
  • Meaning-focused: Cognitive skills help you process and control the context of the event.
  • Social strategies: You can work on identifying and relying on social support groups. You can find support in a group meeting for alumni at your treatment center, AA or NA groups. Reaching out to your therapist or sponsor is another way to seek relief from emotional stress.

Coping Skills for Real Life

Coping skills are important tools for your recovery in every level of care and recovery stage but especially when you leave treatment. Now that you are out in the world experiencing stressful or emotionally charged situations, you can work on using your skills. When you face a problem that heightens your sense of anger, confusion, anxiety or fear, stop, think, and process before you react. You know your coping tools. As you use them, they become a habit. Many of the skills you learned are cognitive-based. While you were in group and individual therapy sessions, you worked on skills like: 

  • Learning the early warning signs of an emotion such as anger
  • Understanding and coming to terms with the consequences of your anger
  • Spotting lapses in your thought process and creating sensible options to counter any negative thoughts
    • Practicing your coping skills with others
    • Finding ways to pause initial responses and replace them with the skills you learned

For some, integrating these coping skills into their lives helps reduce stress, anxiety, relapse or potential conflict:

  • Meditation: The goal of meditation is to relax and replace negative energy with positive energy. Instead of focusing on what causes you stress, meditation teaches you to focus on what is positive and visualize your goals. Meditation also aids in guiding you to process a situation before you react to the event.
  • Journaling: When you write down your emotions, memories or thoughts, you can release your mind of harmful thoughts. You can hold on to your anger, anxiety or fear, causing toxic emotions to build in you. Journaling can free you of toxic thoughts or feelings. At a later point, you can discuss your writing with a therapist or a support group. 
  • Art therapy: Art is liberating for some. You can healthily express your emotions through expression.
  • Yoga: The connection between your mind and body is emphasized in yoga. You need to learn how to listen to what your body is telling you. In some cases, poses can bring up emotional reactions your body held onto after a trying event. Let yourself feel your emotions.

The 12-step approach is another way to cope with stressors. The 12-step model bases its theory on the idea substance addiction is a spiritual and medical condition. The program works because of your commitment to abstaining from your preferred substance by attending meetings. In these meetings, you can share your experiences and fears and listen to others as they share their thoughts and feelings. AA or NA meetings form a community that encourages your sobriety and surrounds you with support when you need help. When you leave treatment, Casa Palmera wants you to know that you are not alone. You can attend a weekly Continuing Care Group, or 12-step support groups. Many people find joining other healthy communities like a gym or a book club to be a beneficial supplement. After treatment, you have the opportunity to use what you learned and seek help from your network of people who are there to support you through your recovery journey.


Substance addiction treatment teaches you how to integrate relapse prevention skills into every stage of your recovery journey. Coping skills will help you maintain your sobriety as you learn how to self-manage your emotions, reactions and responses. When you finish your addiction treatment, you can feel anxiety about living in the real world. Casa Palmera is here to support you every step of the way, whether that be while you’re in treatment or if you are looking for support through 12-step meetings. We believe in your recovery journey. Call us today to learn more, including how our weekly Continuing Care Group could be a beneficial addition to your ongoing sobriety work.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.