Healthy vs Unhealthy Coping Skills in Addiction Recovery

A guy thinking of positive coping skills.

Dealing with difficult times effectively in recovery requires distinguishing between healthy vs unhealthy coping skills.

Taking the steps to seek help for substance use disorder is a monumental feat. The road to recovery is not always an easy one. It’s often filled with ups and downs that can test your strength and will to achieve your goals.  

Through the treatment process, challenges will cause you to make adjustments. With substance use counseling and medication-assisted treatment, you will learn to practice healthy coping mechanisms and effective decision-making. These skills will help you avoid roadblocks on your path toward healing. 

While everyone’s recovery story is unique, there are some unhealthy coping mechanisms that many seem to have in common. Learning to identify which methods are healthy and which ones are destructive is important to the growth process in recovery.  

What are Coping Skills? 

The methods a person uses to deal with stressful situations. These may help a person face a situation, take action, and be flexible and persistent in solving problems. This is where learning about healthy vs unhealthy coping skills becomes vital.

Benefits of Healthy Coping Skills 

Learning to cope with stressors and sudden changing events is essential to sound mental health. Although it’s natural to deal with feelings such as shock, trauma, grieving, and other experiences, coping helps see you through. Psychological stress usually deals with adverse events in life, but it also calls for adaptation. The ability to cope and adapt to sudden and difficult changes is essential for survival. Those who have never developed healthy coping mechanisms often deal with anxiety, low self-esteem and other mental issues.  

Examples of Unhealthy and Healthy Coping Skills 


Patients enrolled in MAT will often quickly begin to improve other aspects of their lives. This usually involves regaining financial independence and responsibility. That frequently means starting a new job or career path. 

A fresh start can be an excellent distraction from relapse triggers that manifest when spending too much time alone. With the current economic situation, you may not be able to attain a job as quickly as you’d like. You may not be able to find a position that fits your experience and past work history, either. This can quickly become a frustrating situation that causes stress and self-doubt.  

You may not be able to jump back into the workforce immediately, and that’s okay! An “all or nothing” approach will lead to burnout. Taking on a part-time, low-stress job until you find the right position or career path is a great stepping stone. It’s a better idea than taking on a job that will become overwhelming and too stressful to balance with recovery.  

Be realistic about your ability to handle the extra responsibility of working full-time. Take things slowly so as not to overload yourself with work stress. Continue to prioritize your recovery, especially if you are still early in your journey.  


During substance use disorder treatment, many patients overcome addiction brain fog thanks to the stabilizing benefits of MAT. You quickly realize how much you’ve been deprived of simple luxuries because you’ve spent almost all your time and money feeding your addiction. This can spur an urge to splurge on shopping, which isn’t always harmful and can be a simple means of self-care. However, it becomes unhealthy when it turns into a distraction or coping mechanism to mask depression and anxiety.  

Creating a budget for all monthly expenses can help curb this issue or prevent it altogether. Celebrating milestones in recovery by buying yourself small treats is also a great way to incentivize progress. The key is to avoid spending money to achieve a sense of thrill or satisfaction. Chasing the “shopping high” can quickly spiral into a poor coping method.  


Nearly everyone uses avoidance tactics to procrastinate when dealing with specific issues or tasks. This habit can be particularly detrimental to people in treatment. Repairing the damage caused to relationships and your life by addiction can be a long journey. Getting started on mending these conflicts can be part of the healing process.  

Dealing with debts, legal issues, and other critical impending matters while in treatment can be stressful. Once they are squared away, or at least on the course to be settled, things become easier. The sense of accomplishment and relief from the burden of guilt and pressure can be encouraging. 

Making a list and an ideal timeline for when specific “difficult tasks” should be addressed and settled can help. Preparing, anticipating and following through on these goals can be worked on each day instead of being avoided.  


Life during treatment can bring much clarity to patients, often opening their eyes to toxic people and surroundings. Some of these negative things may have contributed to your addiction. This realization can be alienating, causing you to avoid social gatherings or places for fear of potential triggers.  

Perhaps you avoid certain social interactions because you feel distrustful of new things not to harm your progress. While being cautious is generally a good thing during this time, you should avoid isolating yourself too much. You run the risk of loneliness and boredom and developing other mental health issues from spending too much time alone. 

Substance use counseling is a tremendous asset for you to learn coping skills along your journey. Learning how to set (and stick to) boundaries with yourself and others is an empowering practice. There are also group sessions available where you can mingle with like-minded peers who can help you feel more at ease. 

Join Us at Middlesex Recovery

If bad coping habits have led to an addiction to opioids, it’s not too late to get the help you need. Middlesex Recovery offers highly effective medication-assisted treatment combined with counseling services to address addiction’s physical and emotional ramifications. Opioid addiction is not the end of your story. With our compassionate professionals walking beside you, you can break free from addiction. Message or call us today so that you can be the best version of yourself for your family.