Coping Skills: Cognitive Strategies

Coping Skills: Cognitive Strategies

People with solid recovery find that having a toolbox filled with effective coping skills is an important resource. These non-chemical coping skills replace the old, destructive habits of using, numbing, and avoiding. This program specifically addresses Cognitive Strategies.


The definition of Cope:

To deal effectively with something difficult.

When starting down the path to recovery, coping with some of the realities of your life can be challenging. Many of us experienced life by numbing ourselves, so when we remove the harmful substance from our life, it can be hard to deal with certain situations.

Developing strong coping skills can help you get through the challenges. This program will give you an overview of one type of coping skill.

Cognitive Strategies

Cognition is the set of all mental abilities and processes related to knowledge: attention, memory and working memory, judgment and evaluation, reasoning and "computation", problem-solving and decision making, comprehension and production of language, etc.

Here are two techniques to help you change the way you think.

Manage Distorted Thinking

Effective management of distorted thinking helps us distinguish between unhelpful and negative thoughts and more realistic, positive thoughts. Our thoughts impact our emotions, which then impact how we act. By changing our way of thinking, we change how we act.

Here are some examples:

“I always screw things up. I’m such a loser.” Change to helpful, realistic thought: “Everyone makes mistakes. All I can do is try my best and learn from the experience.”

Or, “I just can’t go to this event - I’m way too anxious. What is wrong with me that I can’t control my anxiety?” Change to: “It’s OK and normal to feel anxious. I can feel anxious and still go to the event. I know how to take care of myself.”

“I don’t know if I can stay in recovery forever. It’s too long to think about!” Change to a smaller, more achievable goal, like staying sober just for the next 24 hours.

“Play the Tape Through To the End”

When thoughts about urges to use or some other self-defeating behavior arise, try the technique of fast-forwarding the video to the end, and think the entire experience through to the logical consequence.

For instance, with the urge to use, think all the way through from the obsession and craving, to the acquisition of the substance via dangerous or risky actions, to the devastating consequences that brought you into treatment or to the moment when you got into sobriety.

"My distorted thinking always started with feeling ashamed of myself. Then I would notice a craving for alcohol or cocaine. So I started doing a fast-forward by asking myself if I really wanted to drive into the side of a school bus again or hit my wife. Those are the things I did before I got sober. I would see those horrible consequences in vivid detail. I corrected my thinking by saying 'No - I don't want to go there again!' and 'I'm a good person who deserves recovery.'"

- Richard M., recovering alcoholic

Correcting Distortions

Can you think of one area of your life which is blurred by distorted thinking? It can be either something negative that you refuse to face or something positive that you refuse to accept about yourself. Write it down here, and then write out a correction to that distortion. Share to a Space of your choosing, or discuss with someone in your support system.


In order to be successful in your recovery from addiction and build a life of promise, you need to acquire and grow strong coping skills. When you expand your ability to deal with tough situations, you'll find that you can make it through anything without relapsing.

Building coping skills takes practice, so be patient with yourself. Remember to set attainable goals, so when choosing skills to work on, make a list of steps to achieve it, and work your way through that list a step at a time.

Your To Do List

  • Practice coping using cognitive strategies

Keep learning about coping skills and read Coping Skills: DBT.

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