How Your Coping Style Affects Your Risk of Addiction

There are several different ways to cope with stressors in life. We only feel stressed by things we’re not sure we can handle. We might feel irritated by a fly, for example, but we don’t see it as a threat. We become stressed when we fear that a situation may exceed our ability to deal with it and that our failure will have negative consequences. So there’s always this uncertainty that we respond to–or cope within a limited number of ways. Basically, this is the fight-or-flight response, but as there are various kinds of stressors, there are also more varied coping strategies.

The basic kinds of coping strategies are approach, avoidance, positive appraisal, and meaning-focused. Approach is similar to fight. If you have an approach strategy to coping, you are focused on how to solve the problem. Avoidance is more like flight–you just want to escape the threat, whatever kind of threat it is–heights, social interaction, responsibilities, etc. Positive appraisal is looking for the silver lining. Maybe you have a broken leg and can’t play basketball this season, but it’s a great opportunity to focus on your grades and apply to colleges. A meaning-focused strategy is focusing on a higher purpose. Maybe you have a miserable job and a horrible boss, but knowing you do it for your kids makes it bearable.

No one relies solely on one coping strategy. People often use a combination of strategies or use different strategies depending on the situation. For example, if a friend dies, there isn’t really a problem to be solved so you either have to look for a silver lining, a larger meaning, or avoid thinking about it completely. If you’re nervous about a test, an approach strategy is more productive, although plenty of people choose avoidance instead.

While each strategy has its place, people who rely heavily on avoidance may be at greater risk for addiction. An avoidance strategy puts you at higher risk for depression. Avoidance is essentially a form of learned helplessness. It implies that you can’t fix the problem, so it’s better to try to escape it. Sometimes this works, but often it makes problems worse. This creates a negative cycle of anxiety, depression, and more avoidance. For some people, drugs and alcohol are a way of not thinking about problems. These people are at particular risk for addiction.

The good news is that you can learn a different style of coping. It takes some time and practice, and probably a bit of therapy too, but you can learn to rely less on avoidance and rely more on approaching your problems. This leads to feeling better and having fewer problems.

Daylight Recovery Services takes a holistic approach to substance abuse and co-occurring disorder treatment to address the physical, psychological, and spiritual facets of addiction and recovery. We ensure clients emerge from our facility with the proper tools and confidence in their ability to lead a healthy, enjoyable life. If you or someone you love is ready to break free of the bondage of addiction, contact one of our recovery experts today at 1-833-2DAYLIGHT.