The stigma of alcohol and substance abuse is lifting as scientists learn more about the biology behind addiction. Understanding what drives people to become addicted can help you develop strategies for staying sober.

What is Addiction?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) describes abuse and addiction as a chronic relapsing brain disease that is expressed as a form of compulsive behavior. Addiction compels people to become obsessed with obtaining and abusing drugs and alcohol, and affects brain circuits and neurotransmitters involved in reward, motivation, memory, and inhibitory control. Not surprising, substance abuse and mental illness tend to occur together.

6 Strategies for Coping with Sobriety

Create a plan for staying sober. By understanding the factors that can lead to a relapse, you can develop coping skills and alternative behaviors when faced with these factors. Stress, loneliness, high-risk environments (for example, a bar), environmental cues, and diet can all trigger a relapse. Plan social activities that make you happy and keep you from feeling isolated, and find a creative outlet that gives you a sense of self-worth and accomplishment.

Alcoholic Resources recommends writing a sobriety script to guide you through difficult situations. Your script may include important reasons for staying sober, benefits of sobriety, a reminder of what you stand to lose if you don't stay sober, and your best coping strategies.

Treat depression. Alcoholics who are also depressed are less likely to stay sober. If you suspect you are suffering from depression, seek treatment from a qualified mental health expert.

Start, or continue, therapy. Working with a therapist can help you develop coping strategies when you face new issues or problems. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy, is often effective. During CBT, patients are repeatedly exposed to emotional states and bodily sensations that serve as cues and contexts (triggers) for craving and abuse. They then find alternative responses to those triggers. The goal of CBT is to weaken the link between triggers and substance abuse and replace addictive behavior with adaptive, non-drug or alcohol-related responses.

Stay healthy. A nutritious diet and avoiding sugar staves off cravings. Exercise regularly and get enough sleep.

Quit smoking. People who depend on alcohol are also more likely to smoke. Quitting smoking will help you stay sober and bring a multitude of other health benefits.

Think of happier times. Research shows that people who are more successful staying sober focus on positive experiences from their past. A high level of spirituality is also a protective factor.


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