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Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

Distress Tolerance Skills for Addiction Recovery

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Distress Tolerance skills play an important role in addiction recovery and provide an effective tool for navigating our stressful modern-day lives while maintaining sobriety. They are a component of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), which is a therapeutic intervention used in the treatment of addiction and substance abuse.

Whether we like it or not stress is an unavoidable everyday occurrence for most of us. It can be something as small as traffic jams, crowded lines or much more significant and traumatic events such as a divorce, or loss of a loved one. No matter what happens in our daily lives, stress can make those moments more uncomfortable. For those who are recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, stress can be dangerous to sobriety. If left unchecked, stress can cause cravings for substances. Over time, recovering addicts can give in to the impulses to use drugs and alcohol and find themselves back into active substance use.

In order to minimize stress, recovering addicts must develop ways to calm themselves and stay in the present. An effective tool to help addicts accomplish this goal is through the development of distress tolerance skills. If you are unfamiliar with this concept, the following article will give you a basic understanding. To learn more about how distress tolerance training and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) can help you achieve long-term recovery, call NuView Integrative Recovery Center today.

What is Distress Tolerance Training?

Simply defined, distress tolerance is understanding there are situations that are difficult or impossible to change. An excellent example of this philosophy can be found in the Serenity Prayer which states the following:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

In sobriety, it is easy to get discouraged when facing the stresses of daily living. While there can be many setbacks and disappointments in living a life of sobriety, developing distress tolerance skills can help calm the mind and help those in recovery have a more realistic view of the world around them.

The Concept of Radical Acceptance

The cornerstone of distress tolerance training is the concept of radical acceptance. This concept simply states that an individual needs to accept a stressful or negative situation as it is and not place unrealistic expectations and how things should be. As already stated, focusing on the here and now is key to minimizing stress. In order to practice acceptance, those in recovery must engage in a practice called turning the mind.

With this practice, a recovering addict needs to be aware of when their thoughts drift from the present. When thoughts drift, they won’t be judged as good or bad. Instead, an individual will engage in deep breathing in bring their mind to the present. The most important part of radical acceptance is to realize that a particular situation does not have to go on for an indefinite period. Using this effective tool for addiction recovery give someone the power to take control of the current situation to change their future. This tool can be used at any time to change the way we view a situation and can be used as a powerful intervention and relapse prevention tool.

Exercises Associated with Distress Tolerance Training (Distress Tolerance Activities)

The core of distress tolerance training can be broken into four main components. The first component is distraction. With this technique, people turn to turn their focus away from negative thoughts towards enjoyable and neutral activities. These can include volunteer work, engaging in hobbies, exercising, journaling or practicing gratitude on a daily basis.

The second activity associated with distress tolerance training is self-soothing. With self-soothing, addicts learn to engage in their senses to find positivity and beauty. For example, people can learn to focus on nature or art when stress occurs in their daily lives. Additionally, self-soothing behavior can include listening to music, eating a flavorful meal or even wrapping one’s self in a soft blanket. Engaging the senses is seen as a form of grounding and nurturing oneself.

Another important exercise in this form of stress management training is known as improving the moment. The goal of this exercise is to help people to look at the positives in the present moment. This can include prayer, visualizing positive outcomes and taking a mental break from the moment and coming back to it when recharged.

The last skill associated with distress tolerance training is focusing on the pros and cons. With this exercise, an individual is asked to list the pros and cons of tolerating stress as well as letting stress take over their lives. People learn to focus on the consequences of not handling stress as well as those times when they were able to handle stress in positive ways. Through evaluating these pros and cons, clients can understand the benefits of tolerating pain and distress—and reduce the impact of stress in their lives.

DBT Skills Training in Addiction Recovery

Developing distress tolerance skills and using DBT skills in addiction recovery is one intervention among many that can help guide someone through recovery from drug and alcohol abuse. The key to long-term recovery from substance abuse is to get the tools and support needed to take back control of your life. NuView Integrative Recovery Center features traditional and holistic-based therapies that will empower you to make positive changes to your life. Our dedicated and experienced staff can create a treatment plan to help you build a stronger foundation and develop the skills needed to manage and maintain recovery.

Read Further

Self Centeredness in Recovery: Healthy Selfish Way in Addiction Recovery 

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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