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Substance use is at an all-time high for Americans, and nowadays, nearly everyone knows someone who’s struggling with a substance use disorder or addiction.

Even worse, using substances as a coping skill is almost normalized in the United States, with many movies, talk shows and music all contributing to standardizing this perpetuation. Using drugs and alcohol has become so common that we forget how harmful it is, not only to our bodies but our brains and minds as well.

Mental health and substance use have long been connected, with self-medicating being one of the most common manifestations of their relationship. While self-medicating often starts out in a mild way, it often turns into a chronic habit that becomes an unhealthy coping skill.

In this article, we’re going to discuss the dangers of improper coping skills, specifically in the sense of using substances to cope with your mental health issues.

What are improper coping skills?

Coping skills are methods, habits and behaviors we use in order to manage or self-soothe ourselves when dealing with stressful situations. Regardless of whether this stress is external (such as work) or internal (such as grief), your coping skills will determine how well you process and move on from these events.

Improper coping skills are unhealthy and things we develop in an attempt to manage our reality. Coping skills can develop consciously or unconsciously, and with substances especially, have the potential to become a problem when indulged frequently or without limitation.

In addition to drugs and alcohol, other improper coping skills include: 

  • Avoidance or isolating behaviors
  • Oversleeping
  • Impulsive spending
  • Binge-eating
  • Under-eating

Just to name a few that vary from the dangers of substance use or misuse, although each coping skill listed above can come with its own set of dangers.

Signs of improper substance use

Looking forward to and having a beer after you get home from work to help decompress from the events of the day isn’t something to initially be concerned about. 

These are clearer signs of substance abuse:

  • Waking up and are thinking about substances
  • Taking substances before work to “get through the day”
  • Indulging substances throughout your shift or on your lunch break
  • Fantasizing about substances throughout the day
  • Making substances your go-to for stress, anxiety, depression

It’s not always easy to distinguish substance use from substance abuse, but you can always send us a message and we’ll help you figure it out.

The dangers of improper coping skills

Using substances to cope with mental health issues only brings temporary relief. Getting high might reduce your anxiety for a couple of hours, or getting drunk might allow you to forget about how much you hate your job — but the effects wear off, and you’re left with the same emotions.

In addition to substances simply not being an effective coping skill (due to the fact they don’t actually help you, they just distract or numb you), they often do cause harm in some way. 

Examples of this kind of harm include:

  • Masking additional medical conditions
  • Poor-functioning immune system
  • Weakened overall physical health
  • Worsened symptoms of existing mental or physical conditions
  • Potentially dangerous interactions with other substances
  • The development of additional issues

Struggling with a mental health issue is one thing, but if you develop a substance use disorder on top of that, you’ll have what is called dual diagnosis. Dual diagnosis (also sometimes referred to as co-occurring disorders) is when two or more conditions are present in an individual simultaneously; most commonly, this refers to mental health conditions and addiction.

Healthy coping skills for mental health

There are many different healthy, positive and productive coping skills for mental health, and with a little bit of curiosity and experimentation, you’ll discover the ones that work best for you.

A few examples of healthy coping skills are:

  • Establishing healthy boundaries
  • Consistent and regular exercise
  • Cooking or baking healthier recipes
  • Practicing mindfulness and self-care
  • Journaling or engaging in a hobby
  • Actively engaging with family and friends

Finally, one of the most traditional and effective coping skills is that of therapy and counseling

While there are plenty of ways you can take care of your mental health at home, sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to seek professional help. 

Get started today

If you think you or someone you love is struggling with a substance use disorder, send us a message today. This time can be full of scary unknowns, but it’s not something you’re expected to go through alone; we’re here to help.

At Silvermist Recovery, we specialize in offering highly individualized treatment plans to adults who are ready to overcome drug addiction, alcohol addiction and mental health disorders. Your safety, comfort and success are our top priorities, and our team of highly trained and compassionate professionals are ready to serve you every step of your recovery journey.

Send us a message to speak with an advisor and identify what the best next step for you or your loved one is.