How to Cope Without Using Addictive Substances

Man Stressed at Work

Coping with stress, grief and trauma can sometimes feel impossible. A single stressor can seem too large to overcome, and relapse can seem inevitable. At The River Source, we have developed guidelines and healthy coping mechanisms for these stressors so you can continue on your path to sobriety without being derailed by unexpected events.

  • Meditation; Breathe
  • Count backward from 10
  • Pray about it
  • Talk about it
  • Be of service
  • Call your sponsor

Different Types of Stressors

Stressors’ can be a very broad term. Anything that triggers and causes emotional or physical distress is considered to be a stressor. This could be stress from anything, such as grief, trauma, or other unwanted emotions. This includes losing a loved one, injuries, illness, divorce, or any other major life event.

Stressors can be different from person to person, and their healing and coping methods will be different.

  • Pray for open-mindedness
  • Read 3rd step on Page 63 in the Big Book of AA
  • Read St. Francis on Page 99 in the 12 and 12 (with intent and purpose)
  • Read Acceptance on Page 417 in the Big Book of AA
  • Call your sponsor or a member of your support group
  • Call The River Source’s Alumni Hotline for additional support
  • Take suggestions

Three Categories of Coping

There are three main categories to coping in a healthy way. They are diversion, management, and tension release.


Diversion is everything that distracts from the stress you may be feeling. This can cover many different aspects of life, but when your attention is diverted to another area or activity, it‘s easier to cope with the stress and temptation you’re feeling. Some examples of diversions are:

  • Service work
  • Working the 12-steps
  • Discussing it with fellowship
  • Reading recovery literature
  • Go to a 12-step or support group meeting

Although engaging in recovery-focused activities is a great way to take your mind off daily stressors, they’re certainly not the only type of diversion. Here are a few examples of ordinary activities that can help:

  • Organizing
  • Exercise
  • Doing art
  • Journaling

There are many other things that can be considered a diversion. In the end, the most important question to ask yourself is “Am I distracted from what was stressing me?” If the answer is yes, you know if that activity is a good diversion for you.


Managing your stress or stressor is another important aspect of coping. Management is more defined because it involves addressing the main trigger of stress. To manage your triggers, you can:

  • Talk to a loved one or someone you trust
  • Write a gratitude list
  • Make a list of your strengths
  • Positive affirmations
  • Write out a list of what you want in a Higher Power
  • Be open to seeking help from a professional, such as a counselor

When you are able to take a step back and look at the big picture of what your stressor is, you’ll be able to get to the root of the problem and begin the healing process.

Tension Release

Tension release is anything that allows you to unleash the pent-up emotions you may be feeling. A great way to handle stress is to combat the stressor with tension release. When the tension is released, you can better address the main problem and take time to heal yourself. Some great tension releasers are:

  • Reflection with sponsor or counselor
  • Write out 4th step inventory
  • Read the 7th step prayer on Page 76 in the Big Book of AA
  • Being of service, helping another struggling individual
  • Exercise, yoga, or meditation
  • Letting yourself cry (emotional catharsis)
  • Laughing or watching something funny
  • Getting enough sleep

When you are able to release the stress that is being caused by the trigger, you will be able to get back to your normal life. But a very important part of this category is addressing the problem and letting yourself feel. You can’t release the tension you are feeling if you are internalizing your emotions.

Trying to heal yourself can be very difficult, but when you surround yourself with people who support you and care about you, healing becomes much easier. Finding a group or a trusted counselor is a great way to begin the healing your body needs. To learn more about the Alumni Program offered at The River Source, you can visit our Alumni Page or call 866-294-9331.

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Welcome to The River Source, the place where new beginnings are created. We commend you for taking the first step in your recovery, and we want you to know that we are here for you.