How AA Supports the Development of Coping Skills
Coping skills are one core mechanic behind how an addiction functions. Most of the time, people with substance abuse disorders have poor coping mechanisms. A lot of people don’t learn how to deal with emotions and setbacks in a healthy way as children. Learning to develop new ways of handling emotions can help people develop a new outlook on life as well.
What Is Alcoholics Anonymous
In 1935, two men named Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, both alcoholics, decided to create a fellowship to support recovery. They helped to create the modern support group system by pioneering the first Alcoholics Anonymous group to ever meet. Their approach focuses on a holistic model of healing targeting the body and mind. They even incorporated a spiritual component.
Support groups can look different depending on who’s involved, but they’re based on the same principles. AA groups meet to support recovery in their fellow members. To do this, they adhere to a 12-step program. Spiritually inclined members may also choose to follow the 12 traditions.
The founders believed that targeting alcoholism effectively required a multi-modal approach. They taught that to successfully treat an addiction, you need to heal all aspects of a person’s health. Each of the steps in their program is meant to help members grow specific parts of their character. Following them can help you overcome the trauma associated with addiction.
What Is the 12-Step Program?
The original founders of AA created a program consisting of 12 steps. Modern groups still follow them in their original language as follows:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
How Does the 12-Step Program Work?
Members meet on a regular basis, many of them weekly. People share stories of success and struggle during meetings. They wait in turns, each sharing something.
A lead member will also instruct the group on a specific step for each meeting. The groups are supposed to work on this step while they’re waiting for the next meeting to happen.
You also have a mentor assigned to you as part of AA. This is usually a member who has been meeting with the group for a while. They’re meant to help guide you through the 12 steps if you’ve never done them before. Working with them can help build a powerful bond by the end of the 12th step.
How Does AA Develop Your Coping Skills?
When you’re meeting with a group often, you’ll begin to open up with its members. Over time, you’ll develop bonds with them, making it easier to share. All humans crave connection, but we don’t all find it in our daily lives. Going to a group like AA can help you improve your coping mechanisms and create a social support system.
Working with members can give them an opportunity to speak honestly with you. A lot of recovering members start their journey with a ton of negative habits.
The first step to overcoming them is by learning to accept them. Working through all 12 steps will help you deal with the emotional turmoil that frequently accompanies alcoholism.
You’ll also learn how to make amends with people you love. The steps will even guide you through apologizing to everyone you know. By the end, you’ll have forgiven yourself, too.
The whole point of the steps is to work through all the natural emotions you have when life gets difficult.
Why Are Coping Skills Important?
One of the biggest reasons people relapse after treatment is because of poor coping skills. Everyone encounters stress throughout their daily lives. The way we respond to that stress makes a huge difference in how it affects us.
Unhealthy coping mechanisms make things worse. You could get into a fight with someone you care about because you were a little irritated, or you could decide to relieve stress by drinking a bit after work. Coping mechanisms like this actually increase your stress levels in the long run.
The Benefits of Developing Good Coping Skills
Healthy coping mechanisms encompass a wide variety of activities. You could speak to someone about how they’ve made you feel. Or, if they’re not willing to listen, you could go for a run. A lot of support group members turn to exercise a way to heal their bodies and minds while working through the steps. Exercise does have some evidence supporting its use as a tool for recovery.
Learning to cope better with stress will decrease its impact on you, making you more resilient. By developing a more resilient character, people resist cravings better. Plus, you’ll experience less stress in general, so you’ll need to cope less.
Identifying Bad Coping Skills
Some negative coping mechanisms are relatively easy to spot. Using a substance to numb how you’re feeling is almost always a negative reaction. Another way to tell if something is a bad habit is by looking at how it affects others. If you’re hurting your relationships, it’s probably not a healthy way to cope.
You can also ask group members to help spot your negative coping skills while you’re at the meetings. Getting someone to help you take a look at yourself can make it easier to spot when you’re doing something wrong. Hearing them say something about it often gives people the motivation to finally make a change.
How Bad Coping Skills Can Affect Us
Poor coping mechanisms can weaken us mentally and spiritually. A lot of people have a tough time dealing with frustration. As a result, they’ll lash out at the people around them, usually loved ones.
Lashing out at people is only one example of a bad coping mechanism, but it’s one we’re all familiar with. If we take a close look at this, it makes some sense why people do it. Everyone gets angry when something frustrates them. However, when we hurt others, we’re also hurting ourselves. You can damage a relationship because of something you’ve said in the heat of the moment.
Eventually, you’ll feel sad when you realized they’re hurt. Then, those feelings can make it even tougher to make good decisions. That’s how poor coping mechanisms can create such vicious cycles.
Learning to Create New Habits
To overcome poor coping habits, you need to develop new ones. Developing new ones usually takes a little while, so don’t get discouraged.
Most activities take around 21 days to begin becoming a habit. Doing something for a few minutes each day can make a difference as long as you’re consistent. We only have so much willpower, though, so don’t overload yourself with too many new things all at once.
Start by focusing on a few new habits you could develop to help deal with stress better. One of them could be taking a short walk around your neighborhood. Elevating the heart rate actually decreases circulating cortisol, making you less stressed.
You could also try speaking to someone you care about. Attending meetings would be a great way to start coping with things better.
Developing better coping skills starts with learning how to recognize an emotion. Recognizing an emotion lets you have more control once you’re caught up in the feeling. Reframe what’s caused you to feel like this. Seeing things from other perspectives often helps calm you down.
How Social Support Groups Help Recovery
Social support has a huge effect on how likely success will be during recovery. If you have a group of supportive people backing you, it’s hard to fail. Not everyone has a supportive home, though. Many people find support groups to be the best way to develop support networks.
Meeting with others who’ve gone through similar experiences gives you some perspective. You get to see how bad choices have affected other people, and you can see how they’ve made better ones to live a different life. Learning from their stories can make you realize how you’re able to make changes in your own life.
Also, you’ll get a chance to speak when you’re part of a group. Speaking in front of the other members can help you develop a strong bond with them. Plus, you’ll be able to get things off your chest. Members support you when you’re going through something difficult in your personal life.
Social Support Is Leading Contributor to Recovery Success
After someone leaves a treatment facility, they’re not always successful with their recovery. One of the biggest reasons people fail during recovery is because they don’t have enough support to resist cravings and deal with triggers.
Developing a support group by attending AA could help you maintain recovery long-term. Research shows that it’s a powerful factor contributing to long-term success. Creating strong social bonds with supportive people can help you maintain recovery.
By meeting with members regularly, you’ll develop bonds faster. You’ll also feel more committed to working through all the steps. AA programs work best when you’re really putting everything you’ve got into your recovery.
Contact Us to Learn More
First City Recovery Center has a lot of experience working with clients who need help living a sober life again. We’ve helped people going through recovery from many different walks of life. We offer a wide variety of treatment styles, tailored for every client. If you’d like to learn more about how we could help with recovery, we’d love to help. Give us a call to speak with one of our representatives to discuss treatment options today.
Dr. Vahid Osman, MD is a psychiatry specialist in Indianapolis, IN.
Dr. Osman completed a residency at Austin State Hospital. He has over 32 years of experience in Psychiatry & Behavioral Health. He is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.