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Substance Use Disorder

I went through a divorce. The changes brought me a lot of stress. I was hanging with my friends a lot and they were taking drugs. I asked them if they can give me a line just so I can numb the pain I felt. That was it. I was hooked.
(Vusi, 44)

I struggled with binge drinking. That was a really dark time. I remember thinking I need to make this decision now. I can’t keep living like this. It’s not a straight-line recovery. You know if you relapse, if you go back onto old behaviours, it doesn’t mean you are not in recovery. It is part of the journey.  Recovering is not a straight line.
(Anke, 25)

How to deal with a substance use disorder

Dealing with a substance use disorder is extremely challenging. But with the right coping skills and support, it is possible to regain control and overcome it. Here are some important steps to take:

Tip #1 – Acknowledge you have a substance use disorder.

The first step is the most important but also the hardest. You have to admit that you have a substance use problem so you can start finding the help you need in order to recover.

Tip #2 – Activate a support system.

You need to reach out to family and/or friends and open up to let them know you are struggling and you need help. Substance use disorder is often caused or made worse by issues within a family system. In addition, it also impacts your family significantly. So, it can be very helpful to involve family members in therapy to address issues, repair relationships and provide support for both you and your loved ones.

Tip # 3 – Seek professional help

Substance use isn’t something you can just deal with on your own. Consult a healthcare professional, therapist, counsellor, or addiction specialist who can:

  • do an assessment.
  • let you know what level of care you need and what your treatment options are – for example, outpatient counselling, inpatient rehabilitation, medication-assisted treatment or detox.
  • refer you to the relevant places.

Tip # 4 – Reflect on your substance use behaviour.

  1. Identify when it started. Did something happen that led to your becoming dependent on a substance? – for example, losing your job, a big life change, a traumatic experience.
  2. Understand why and when you use the substance. Is it to numb your pain? Is it to give you confidence in social interactions?
  3. Identify what or who triggers the behaviour. Is it specific situations, emotions or people?

Tip # 5 – Develop coping skills.

You need to learn how to cope with your difficult feelings effectively, instead of just trying to escape or numb them through the use of a substance. You can learn these coping skills by:

  • Going for therapy
  • Attending support groups and 12-step programmes like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  • Practising mindfulness
  • Journaling
  • Doing your own research for resources online

Tip # 6 – Overall health and well-being.

By looking after your mental and physical health you can reduce the risk of relapse. Relapse is when someone returns to using substances after a period of being sober.

  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a balanced diet
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Relaxation exercises
  • Self-care practices to promote self-esteem and self-worth.

Tip # 7 – Set clear goals and track progress.

Identify short and long-term goals for recovery, and then what will help you to achieve them. Make sure these are realistic and that you can commit to the actions it will take to meet these goals. Such as:

  • Setting boundaries
  • Creating a daily schedule/establishing a healthy routine
  • Finding purpose in activities and relationships
  • Regularly monitoring your progress and celebrating your achievements, no matter how small they may seem.

Tip # 8 – Be patient and compassionate with yourself.

Practise being patient, persistent and compassionate with yourself – recovery is a lifelong process and setbacks are often part of the journey. Don’t let mistakes deter you from continuing to stay committed to your recovery journey.

Tip # 9 – Create a relapse prevention plan.

With the help of a therapist, create a relapse prevention plan that outlines strategies to prevent relapse and steps to take if one occurs.

Tip # 10 – Stay accountable

It’s important to have a sponsor, therapist, counsellor and/or friend who you can share your progress and challenges with, to help you stay accountable and provide guidance and support for when you need it.

Remember, everyone’s journey to recovery is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Tips to cope for a family member of someone with a substance use disorder