Seven Skills that Are Helpful in Recovery

Life skills are an important part of the change process for a person who is recovering from a substance addiction. People in recovery need coping skills in order to deal with situations that may otherwise be associated with drug use. As these skills develop, the person in recovery can find success in achieving desired goals. Skills that are particularly helpful in recovery are: (1) assertiveness; (2) social skills; (3) behavioural self-control; (4) Identifying alternatives to drug and alcohol use; (5) problem solving; (6) dealing with emotions; and (7) stress management (Lewis et al. 2002).


Behavioural- training techniques are especially important in helping clients develop the specific core skills needed to refuse alcohol and drugs. These skills are urgently needed in the process of recovery include, but are not limited to:

* Asking for help

* Knowing your feelings

* Expressing your feelings

* Dealing with fear

* Responding to failure

* Standing up for your rights

Assertion is the behaviour or trait that allows people to appropriately express their personal rights and feelings. An assertive response is the most acceptable for all involved; it improves self-image, self-esteem, and self confidence, and it does not injure anyone in the process. Rather than drinking or using to cover negative emotions; assertively address the problem. It is likely that the outcome will be increase self-esteem and a feeling of personal power.

Social Skills

Building social skills is important because these provide a means for coping with high-risk situations and can be used to obtain social support. Many in recovery may have failed to learn social skills, or have lost the use of their skills through years of heavy drinking. The following are some ways to learn and develop your social skills:

* Starting conversations

* Giving and receiving compliments

* Nonverbal communication

* Enhancing social-support networks

* Learning to be assertive

* Refusing to drink or use drugs

Behavioural Self-Control

Refusing to drink or use is one of the first and most important steps in behavioural self-control. In order for people to implement the skill of self-control, they must identify very clear and measurable behavioural goals. In making goals, the person in recovery would need to identify motivators that are meaningful so that they are pulled, versus pushed toward them. It is also important to create a rewarding plan for good effort. People who are trying to lessen or change current behaviours may find that there are aspects of their behaviour that they like. There also needs to be an identification of behaviours that gives the person a strong urge to use.

Alternatives to Substance Use

As people remove alcohol and other drugs from centre stage of their lives, they often find it difficult to fill the gap that has been left. Activities that they enjoy are usually associated with drug or alcohol use. By creating a list of substance free activities that they might enjoy, choose two that you could picture them getting involved with immediately. It is important to think of what obstacles there are that might hinder them from participating in these activities and consider strategies for overcoming these hindrances.

Problem Solving

It is suggested that people in recovery need practical strategies for daily hassles in order to help prevent alcohol and drug use. People in recovery should learn to conceptualize their difficulties as problems that can be solved. The person in recovery would need to first define the problem, generate alternatives, decide on a solution, and evaluate the outcome.

Dealing with Emotions

Substance use tends to mask emotions and fend off strong feelings, so people in early recovery sometimes have difficulty identifying and dealing with affect. Gaining skills in this area involves learning first to recognize emotions and then to deal with them. Part of dealing with emotions is cognitive, in the sense that people learn to replace thoughts like, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way”, with ideas like, “I accept that it’s ok to have this feeling as long as my behaviour is appropriate”.

Stress Management

Stress management skills are especially important as people embark on the journey to recovery. People who have used drugs to cope with stress in the past are unlikely to have learned other methods for dealing with environmental demands. People can deal with stress by changing their thinking, their responses, or by changing their environment. Of course, stressors can be very real despite the attempt to interpret them differently. However, if one changes their environment, they would in turn decrease the amount of stressful situations.

Being mindful of these seven skills can give you a jump start in your recovery, or a booster if you have been in recovery for a while. Mindfulness contributes to greater effectiveness in the here and now. By focusing on the here and now, you can be more productive in the present. Mindfulness means owning each moment, good, bad, or ugly. If you’re in recovery, or thinking about quitting drinking or drug use, then let these seven steps be a new beginning.

Meila Johnson is a counsellor with The Employee Assistance Programme of the Cayman Islands. To schedule a confidential appointment please contact us on 949-9559, or via our website