Mastering distress tolerance is essential to successful teen substance use disorder (SUD) recovery. Distress tolerance is the ability to cope with difficult situations healthily. It involves learning how to tolerate urges and cravings, deal with difficult emotions, and handle setbacks. Teens who are able to develop strong distress tolerance skills are more likely to stay in recovery, while those who cannot tolerate distress are more likely to relapse.
What Is Emotional Distress?
Emotional distress is a feeling of discomfort or pain that’s caused by an event or situation. It can be caused by a variety of things, including physical or emotional abuse, major life changes, or traumatic events. People who experience emotional distress may feel overwhelmed, hopeless, and worthless. They may also have difficulty concentrating, sleeping, or eating.
If emotional distress is not addressed, it can lead to serious mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression. These mental health issues often lead to self-medicating with substances, which can lead to addiction. To stay sober, SUD recovery requires teens to develop skills to tolerate emotional distress in order to abstain from coping with substances.
Distress Tolerance Skills for Teens
Distress tolerance skills help teens withstand the discomfort that comes with abstinence and healthily manage emotions. Three of the most effective and accessible skills are distraction, self-soothing, grounding, and positive self-talk.
Distraction techniques help teens focus on something else instead of the urge to use substances. When faced with a difficult situation, teens can practice distraction by identifying five things they can see, four things they can touch, three things they can hear, two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste. This focused attention on the senses can help to ground the individual in the present moment and take the focus off of uncomfortable thoughts or feelings.
Additionally, teens can practice distraction by engaging in pleasant activities such as listening to music, reading, or spending time with friends or family members. By identifying and engaging in activities that are pleasurable and distracting, teen SUD clients can begin to build a foundation of coping skills to draw upon during times of stress.
Self-soothing techniques help teens calm themselves down when they’re feeling overwhelmed. Self-soothing refers to the ability to comfort and calm oneself in the face of challenging situations. It can involve activities such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or positive self-talk. Learning how to self-soothe can help teens feel more in control of their recovery and less vulnerable to relapse. Furthermore, self-soothing can help reduce stress and anxiety, two common triggers for teen substance abuse.
Grounding is a skill that can be used to help teens in recovery cope with difficult emotions and sensations. Grounding involves focusing on the present moment and using the senses to connect with the here and now. When feeling overwhelmed, teens can ground themselves by focusing on their breath, noticing the sights and sounds around them, or feeling their feet on the ground. Grounding can help individuals feel calmer and more in control. It’s a useful tool for managing difficult emotions and thoughts, and it can be used in any situation.
Positive self-talk can help teens remind themselves of their goals and why they’re working towards recovery. It can also help to reframe negative thoughts and emotions into something more positive. For example, if a teen is feeling discouraged about their progress in recovery, positive self-talk can help them to remember how far they’ve come and how much progress they’ve made. Additionally, if a teen is feeling anxious about an upcoming event, positive self-talk can help them to focus on the present moment. It also reminds them that they have the strength to overcome it.
One way teens can use these skills is with skill cards. Laminated index cards are portable and easy to make. Each card contains a different skill, such as deep breathing, counting, positive self-talk, or attending a support group meeting. Teens can carry the cards with them and use them when they’re feeling tempted to use drugs or alcohol. By having readily available skills, they will be better equipped to handle challenging situations without turning to substance use. It’s often difficult to remember healthy coping skills when under stress. Carrying these cards can make all the difference in helping someone stay sober and achieve long-term recovery.
Seek Professional Help
There are times when distress tolerance skills are not enough, and professional help may be needed. Signs that professional help may be needed include persistent feelings of sadness or anxiety, self-harm, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, and difficulty functioning at school or work. If your teen is experiencing these signs, it’s important to seek professional help. A professional counselor, therapist, or another mental health professional can help teens learn and solidify distress management skills. These skills can help manage difficult situations and emotions in a healthy way. If you or someone you know is struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out for help.
The ability to master distress tolerance is a key part of any teen substance use disorder recovery plan. Recovery is a difficult process and teens often experience a great deal of emotional distress during this time. This can be overwhelming and can lead to impulsive decisions that can further damage their health and wellbeing. However, if they have the skills to tolerate this distress, they can make it through the tough times without returning to problematic substance use. Learning how to recognize, manage and cope with emotional distress can help teens in recovery build a more positive outlook on life, empower them to continue their program, and increase their chances of long-term success. Help is available and you’re not alone. For more information on teaching teens how to tolerate emotional distress and avoid self-medicating with substances, call Clearfork Academy today at (888) 966-8604.