When Coping Mechanisms Become Addictions

Life is stressful, and everyone needs something to help them decompress. While some people manage to find healthy ways of relaxing, everyone is tempted by vices: junk food, reality TV, video games, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana. You know. Outlets which offer immediate gratification and don't require any real physical or mental exertion. Everyone gives in to vices from time to time, but some indulgences are much riskier than others.

No One Starts with the Intention of Forming a Habit

People use drugs and alcohol to relax. They use them to diminish their inhibitions so they can socialize with people more easily. They use them to unwind after a stressful day at work. In other words, drugs and alcohol become a coping mechanism for many people. For most people, the inclination to use drugs and alcohol stems less from a desire to cause pain than a desire to reduce pain. The problem though, is that this form of "self-medication" commonly begets addiction--the coping mechanism becomes an even greater problem unto itself.

The True Cost of Addiction

Chronic use of any drug will deplete you financially, impair your ability to make decisions, damage your health, and color your perception of reality. Becoming addicted to something means that you no longer use to get high--you use to sustain a consistent low. What was once a source of joy and a vehicle for escape becomes part of a boring, expensive, and generally destructive pattern of abuse.

As you develop a higher tolerance, or a chemical dependency, it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve the sort of buzz which got you hooked in the first place--which is the ultimate irony with drugs and alcohol. Certain substances will have you forever pursuing an idealized high which you may never truly experience again.

Finding Healthier Alternatives

There are other, more sustainable coping mechanisms and lifestyle choices that you might consider trying. What makes the healthier choices less desirable for some people, however, is that they won't provide you with gratification without requiring you to put forth a little effort. Lighting up a joint and going for a jog are measurably different activities. But, just as drug and alcohol abuse commonly damages your self-perception, you might find that the activities which challenge you will likely enhance your feelings of self-worth. And, ideally speaking, you might find that building up your confidence and self-respect decreases your desire to consume drugs and alcohol.

Devising a consistent fitness regimen is one potential solution. Vigorous physical activity causes your body to release endorphins which provide you with their own unique--and completely natural--euphoria. What's more, regular exercise lowers your blood pressure, increases your confidence, and has been found to generally decrease anxiety and depression over time.

Some people adapt a personal artistic practice. There are many creative activities which can bolster one's sense of self-worth, and provide a constructive outlet for otherwise destructive emotional tendencies. There are many activities you might consider picking up: sewing, baking, drawing, creative writing, dance, or even playing a musical instrument.

You might also try bubble baths, reading classic literature, listening to records...there are many, many healthy ways of decreasing stress. One danger to be aware of, however, is when a healthy habit turns into an addiction itself.

Put One Foot in Front of the Other

The first and most crucial step towards overcoming your addiction is recognizing that you have a problem. Self-deception and inadequate excuses only further perpetuate the cycle of abuse. Take a good, long, honest look at your life. Determine what your sources of happiness are, and maximize them. Determine what your sources of unhappiness are, and minimize their presence in your life as best as you can.


Brandon Engel is a Chicago-based author who writes about a variety of topics -- everything from vintage horror films to energy legislation to drugs. Drugs are of particular interest to Brandon, partially because of the politics surrounding them and partially also because he has experimented with them and has struggled with certain substances in the past--particularly with alcohol. Brandon is sober now and eager to help others overcome their addictions.