Resilience in Recovery from Addiction and Trauma
Since the introduction of the positive psychology movement (7) to the area of addiction, the term resilience has been acknowledged as a vital resource in a person`s quest for recovery.
What is Resilience?
Resilience has been defined as the absence of psychopathology when encountering stressful situations which enables a person to cope with life’s challenges (1).
Resilience is an important trait to possess when recovering from an addiction as it enables people to negotiate difficult challenges and to fight back strongly, resilience not only helps you to survive but thrive.
Resilience can also provide you with the mental strength and willpower to stick to the boundaries you set during your recovery.
Many people who develop unhealthy drinking habits turn to alcohol because they cannot cope with stress. It is inevitable that we will encounter challenging situations, so if such situations cannot be avoided then people must be better equipped to deal with them.
At the biological level, research suggests that resilience acts as a buffer in stressful situations and therefore enables people who have experienced trauma to not be so negatively affected when facing stressful situations. (1)
Can Anyone Develop Resilience?
Some people mistakenly assume that Resilience is a trait that you are born with, and it is true that genetics and early life experiences play crucial roles in determining whether or not someone will show resilience when they encounter stress in their lives.
But the good news is resilience can be cultivated by anyone and can develop into a vital tool to help people stay strong and focused on their recovery goals without slipping back into bad habits.
Being resilient may come easier to some people than others but everyone can improve their own resilience levels.
So what are the crucial factors in helping people develop the resilience required to recover from addiction?
1. Optimism / Positivity
A tendency to experience frequent positive moods has been found to be associated with high levels of resilience. This is evident in people who are grateful for the positive things in their lives.
One can therefore develop resilience by focusing on what they are grateful for in their lives rather than overly focusing on what is missing.
People should not underestimate the simple things in life that can make them feel positive such as family and friends. Writing a list of all the things you are grateful for can help to build a person’s positivity and hence resilience. (7)
2. Remain Positive in the Face of Adversity
The ability to experience positive emotions alongside negative ones when faced with stressful situations can enhance resilience as it facilitates the ability to engage in flexible thinking.
This can lead to someone being able to think of solutions to problems instead of being overwhelmed by negative emotions. (1)
3. Engaging in Activities Improves Concentration
An ability to focus and concentrate on activities can help build resilience, this, is not easy for some people though and it can take time.
This is why it is important to find an activity that you feel passionate about and you feel motivated to regularly engage in as this can act as a shield against the temptations of alcohol.
Committing and focusing on an activity that is important to you can your focus away from drinking alcohol, the more often you focus on this activity the less time you spend thinking about alcohol.
This will certainly enhance your resilience and slowly lessen your tendency to turn to alcohol when encountering stress. (3)
4. Unleash Your Creativity
Trauma expert Bessie van de Kolke advocates the role of creativity in healing people’s trauma wounds (9).
Being creative helps the body process the physiological effects of trauma that are still prominent in the human body that can lead to the development of addictions.
His research revealed that taking part in various therapies that have a creative element such as drama and music has enabled many people to free themselves from trauma.
Being creative also expands your mind and is something different to focus your attention on instead of drinking alcohol (5)
5. Community Engagement
Being part of a strong community whether it is a church group or football club can instil hope and positivity in people (8) which has been found to be the foundation of resilience. So tuning into your favourite hobby and connecting to others who share your passion can boost your resilience.
The overriding principle of the AA is that receiving support from others boosts your chances of recovery.
Of course, some people find it hard to find the right motivation to get started so professional assistance may be required to help them.
Attending Your local AA/NA groups would be a great start and committing to regular meetings will also help build resilience.
Professional Interventions to Enhance Resilience
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be a vital tool in improving resilience.
People’s thoughts and emotions are intertwined and can contribute to unhelpful ways of dealing with stress which become so ingrained that it’s difficult to break free from.
Working with a CBT therapist can help people gain the cognitive skills needed to reappraise the stressful situation and develop strategies to take a different course of action (2)
CBT can also help to manage your negative emotions, develop self-belief and increase your frustration tolerance (5)
Practising Mindfulness can improve concentration and attention and boost resilience and
provide cognitive tools to help someone deal with their stress in the moment as opposed to drinking alcohol.
Engaging in Mindfulness Meditation regularly has been shown to boost brain function and enable people to focus on tasks that increases people’s potential to learn new things.
Being able to maintain focus builds resilience.
Meditating has also been shown to boost people’ resilience to deal with extremely unpleasant emotional states as well as helping them overcome traumatic events which can make them vulnerable to addictions. (5, 9, 10)
Luckily there is a wide range of individuals and organisations that can facilitate mindfulness sessions throughout the UK.
A great deal of research (3) has indicated a strong positive relationship between spirituality and resilience. Spirituality enhances psychological resilience which helps people cope with challenging situations.
Spirituality has been defined as a fundamental aspect of what it is to be human and to find a sense of meaning in life and to be able to relate positively to yourself and others(1).
Developing spirituality helps someone gain an ability to envisage a positive life whereby the trauma does not go away but the influence and control that this has over a person’s life diminishes so that they can live more meaningful lives.
Indeed spirituality and its increased consequence of resilience have been found to decrease the intent to drink and increase levels of happiness in people in recovery from alcoholism. (1)
This has been attributed to the development of relational factors that foster meaningful engagements with important aspects in life. This would make sense as research has indicated people with a lack of meaning in their life are more prone to alcoholism. (3)
Most addiction recovery programmes feature a spiritual component to them and following the 12 step model will provide opportunities for people to explore their own spirituality.
(1) Alim, T.N. Lawson, W., Feder, W.B.A. ; Iacoviello, B.M. , Shireen-Saxena, S., Bailey, CR . Greene, AM., and Neumeister, A. (2012) Resilience to Meet the Challenge of Addiction: Psychobiology and Clinical Consideration. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews
(2) Bennett, P. (2003) Behavioural and Cognitive Behavioural Approaches to Substance Misuse Treatment in Peterson, T. & McBride, A. (ed) Working with Substance Misusers: A Guide to Theory and Practice London. Routledge.
(3) Burke, P. (2006) Enhancing Hope and Resilience Through a Spirituality Sensitive Focus in the Treatment of Trauma and Addiction. Journal of Chemical Dependency Treatment 8(2): 187-206
(4) Frankl, V. (1959) Man’s Search for Meaning. Beacon Press. England
(5) Joshi, M. (2017) How Mindfulness Affects the Brain.
(6) Neenan, M. (2017) Developing Resilience: A Cognitive Behavioural Approach. Routledge. London
(7) Seligman, M. E. P. & Peterson, C. (2004) Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Oxford University Press. Oxford
(8) Yalom, I. (1995) The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy. Basic Books.
(9) Van de Kolk, B. (2014) The Body Keeps the Score. Viking Press. NewYork
(10) Yang, Y., Holzel, B. & Posner, M. (2015) The Neuro-science of Mindfulness Meditation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Available at https://www.nature.com/articles/nrn3916