Published On: September 3, 2021

10 Healthy Coping Mechanisms to Replace Substance Use

Addiction is a brain disease identified by cravings, tolerance, a loss of control, and an inability to discontinue the use of mind-altering substances despite adverse outcomes. While addiction is typically focused on drugs/alcohol, addiction may also include: 

  • shopping
  • exercise
  • relationships
  • sex
  • video games
  • gambling
  • food

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) states that at least one in twelve Americans suffers from brain disease, or addiction. Addiction typically begins in an individual’s adolescence when a youth starts “experimenting” with drugs and alcohol. 

As addiction progresses, a person may start turning to drugs and alcohol as an unhealthy coping mechanism or, in better terms, a way to escape reality. A person battling mental illness may also turn to drugs/alcohol to self-medicate and relieve the underlying mental illness symptoms. Drugs and alcohol are maladaptive coping mechanism that provide temporary relief from everyday stressors and lead an individual down a self-destructive path, causing family, friends, work, and legal issues. 

The Road to Recovery

Recovering from addiction is no simple task. If it were easy to recover, everyone would. Unfortunately, there is no magic pill that will allow you to wake one day and be “cured” from addiction. Not only does recovery look different for each individual; Recovery is a lifelong process that takes:

  • honesty
  • commitment
  • hard-work
  • change 
  • support

If nothing changes, nothing will ever change. You can’t expect to maintain sobriety while using the same old maladaptive behaviors that you were previously turning to while actively using drugs and alcohol. To sustain long-term recovery from drugs and alcohol, you have to choose healthy coping mechanism and put them into daily practice. Whether you have just begun the journey of recovery or you are seeking new coping mechanisms after a relapse. 

Healthy Coping Mechanisms


Battling addiction can feel lonely at times: that is why it’s essential to build a strong support team. For example, finding a sponsor to work with you through the 12-steps, an accountability partner, a friend, or a family member can call if you are struggling with everyday life or having urges to drink or use. Even a therapist or a certified recovery coach/peer specialist will help give you professional advice during your journey.  

Mindful Meditation

Mindfulness meditations are a great coping mechanism and can help you cope with everyday stressors and help relieve anxiety. There are many options for guided and unguided meditations, which you can easily find on YouTube that can last anywhere from 5-60 minutes long, depending on the time you have. 


Regular exercise is excellent for your physical and mental health. If you have urges to drink or use, try to put on some music, clean your home, take a walk, ride a bicycle, or engage in other cardio activities. With practice, exercise will help relieve stress and calm the urges to turn to substances or alcohol. 

Grounding Exercises 

Grounding techniques allow you to stay in the present moment, and they help you return to a healthier sense of self. In recovery, reminiscing on drugs or alcohol is a normal experience; those are thoughts that we often cannot control. Practicing grounding techniques will allow you to redirect those thoughts and possibly assist you with avoiding a relapse. 

To ground yourself, you can lay on your back on a floor or other flat surface. Using essential oils such as lavender or eucalyptus in a diffuser or on your temples and wrists can help with grounding. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Once your breathing pattern is consistent, you can open your eyes:

  • five things that you see around you
  • four things you can touch around you
  • three things that you can hear 
  • two things that you can smell
  • one thing that you can taste

Grounding yourself takes practice. In the beginning, you may experience racing thoughts, anxiety, and impatience. Keep going; practice makes perfect! You can repeat the grounding exercise as many times as you’d like. 


A wise old man once said, “your mind is like a bad neighborhood; you have to stay out of it!” Instead of turning to alcohol or drug use, pick up a pen and journal about your thoughts, feelings, urges struggles, and things you are grateful for. Ensure that you include dates on the pages for future references to see how much progress you have made in your recovery. This coping mechanism will help you express yourself through the written word. 

Self-help Groups

Self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Codependency Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery, SMART Recovery, and any other non-therapeutic groups are a great way to interact with others struggling with addiction and receive non-judgmental support. Depending on where you are with recovery, self-help groups should be used in conjunction with therapy to assist with your recovery. 


If you are having difficulties maintaining sobriety, you may need to seek professional supervised treatment. Sometimes, this can be discouraging, but recognizing and admitting that you are struggling is a healthy part of recovery. 

Process Feelings

There is no way around our feelings other than dealing with them head-on. To feel good, you must also allow yourself to feel bad and uncomfortable. Processing your emotions will let you get to the root cause to heal and recovery from past trauma. Find a structured local or virtual process group that focuses on topics that fit your needs, such as trauma, abuse, or codependency. Although this can be one of the toughest coping mechanism it will help you the most. 


There is a massive misconception about spirituality. Many people believe that it is only associated with religions. However, this is far from the truth. Spirituality looks different to each individual, and to sum it up, it means connecting to something bigger than ourselves. In Alcoholics Anonymous, it means turning to a higher power or a God. In recovery, it’s essential to find our sense of spirituality to help us get outside of ourselves. 

Finding purpose

When you are in active addiction or struggling with substance abuse, it can be challenging to think that you have anything to “offer” the world. However, it’s essential to find a purpose for life and healing by using these coping mechanisms. For some people, it can mean joining a church group, enrolling in an education program, or maybe becoming a counselor, sponsor, or recovery coach. Whatever it may be for you, you have a story that can help so many others. 

Coping Mechanism: Conclusion

Serenity Springs Recovery Center focuses on rejuvenating your body, mind, and spirit for success in addiction recovery. Our unique treatment programs combined with a 12-step immersion helps men change their lives inside and out. Our mission is to provide the tools and support for every client’s seamless transition into a meaningful and fulfilling life in sobriety. For information, call us today to get started on your journey to recovery.