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Here's a common tale:

Your recovery is going great and you're feeling fantastic when suddenly you're blindsided by a huge life problem - and since the only way you've dealt with life problems for a long time is with drugs or alcohol, eventually that's what you fall back to.

And it's a minor tragedy, since not only does getting loaded derail an attempt at a better life - it's also a pretty ineffective problem solving technique.

Fortunately, it doesn't have to go down like this...

Once you can accept that problems are coming and that life problems threaten your sobriety you should also accept that improving your drug-free problem solving skills makes a lot of sense - especially since doing so doesn't require all that much effort.

Not convinced?

Well, addiction is a brain disease that’s not often reversed with simple determination – in fact, the experts at the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) say that learning new skills, such as improving problem solving abilities or communication skills are 1 of 13 essential components of any addiction treatment program.1

See how easy it can be to improve your problem solving skills by reading the following 7 step guide to problem solving that is recommended by NIDA as an essential tool for anyone in early recovery.

In Early Recovery? Why Your Problem Solving Skills Might Need Work

  • While not everyone in early recovery suffers from weak problem solving skills, many people, especially people with longer histories of abuse, have become so used to 'solving' problems with drugs or alcohol that they no longer have any other practiced skills to fall back on.
  • People in the midst of addiction often lose focus on life beyond getting and using drugs or alcohol and so become out of practice at recognizing the physical and environmental cues that indicate the existence of a small problem. As a result, small problems aren't dealt with until they grow into much larger ones. This phenomenon can endure into early recovery.
And for some people, things are even worse:
  • For impulsive personality types - People with impulsive cognitive styles are less likely to weigh the possible benefits and consequences of any course of action and these people are at an increased risk to abuse drugs and alcohol and to ultimately develop addictions.

Life Problems - The Facts

Before you get started with improving your problem solving skills, it's useful to consider a few basic truths about problems and problem solving.

  1. Everyone has problems
  2. It's normal to feel anxious when faced with a problem
  3. You have to work at problem solving to be good at it - It requires focus and energy
  4. Your first impulsive solution to a problem is often not the best solution

In Recovery: 7 Steps to Better Problem Solving

Practice the following 7 steps when confronted with your next problem in life and find the best solution as you also reduce your risk of drug or alcohol relapse.

Recognize the Existence of a Problem

Accept that you have a problem.

Someone may tell you that you have a problem but you often have to rely on clues that point toward its existence, such as feeling worried or angry or depressed or feeling like you can’t handle some aspect of your life.

“I have been feeling really down for a while now…I wonder what’s causing my sadness?”

Define the Problem - Identify the Specific Elements

Very specific problems are a lot easier to solve than poorly defined ones.

  • Big problems can seem overwhelming, fortunately, most large problems are composed of a few smaller challenges all bundled together. Break down large problems into their component parts and work on individual solutions for each smaller part. 

Think about the specific challenges you face and decide on exactly what you seek to achieve from a possible solution.

Brainstorm for Possible Solutions

Make a list - take a few minutes to brainstorm and write down any and all solutions that occur to you.

  • Don't focus in on the most likely solutions, at this stage you're just trying to loosen up the cerebral cobwebs and put down on paper any solutions that come to mind, no matter how outlandish they seem at the moment.
  • Think outside the box - how would someone else solve this problem? How have you solved similar problems in the past? Call up a friend and ask them what they'd do in this situation as well as what they think you should do.
  • Remember also that you can choose to do nothing at all at the moment.

Think about the Likely Consequences for All Possible Solutions

After you've brainstormed for all your options it's time to start narrowing in on the best course of action.  

Beside each possible solution on your list write down:

  • The likely positive and negative short term consequences of that action
  • The likely positive and negative long term consequences of that action

Choose a Course of Action

Look back on your list to select the best course of action, which should be the solution that delivers a positive outcome at the least personal cost.

Execute Your Decision

Once you've decided on a course of action, execute your decision as quickly as possible.

Look Back at What Happened and Learn from the Situation

Afterward, look back at what you did and think about what worked best and about what didn't work as well it could have.

  • If it’s still appropriate, modify your solution-plan to eliminate what isn’t working and to maximize what's working best.
  • Celebrate your successes and learn from your mistakes.2

For Complicated Challenges, Repeat the Process as Necessary

Complex problems may not disappear after a single round of active problem solving.

This is normal.

If after completing the 7 steps your problems persist, start again at the beginning, looking at how the problem has changed with time and from your problem solving efforts and continue to work towards a satisfactory solution by again using the same 7 step process.  

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Page last updated Sep 03, 2012

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