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Problem-Solving Skills in Addiction Recovery: Why Are They Important?

Learning healthy problem-solving skills in addiction recovery is not just important to staying sober. It plays a key component in living a healthy, rewarding, and sustainable life in recovery and can help resolve many of the common issues people face when they get sober for the first time.

But problem-solving skills don’t always come easy. Many people who have lived for years with substance use disorders don’t have the skills they need to successfully navigate difficult situations and need to learn these skills with the help of trained mental health professionals.

Problem-Solving Skills in Addiction

People who have lived with substance use disorders for months or years are natural problem-solvers, but often in only certain areas of life.

Living with addiction provides a number of problems to be solved from day to day, but they typically revolve around finding one’s drug of choice, finding money to feed the habit, or concealing substance use from friends, loved ones, or colleagues.

What people with substance use disorders typically lack is the ability to solve interpersonal problems, emotional challenges, or complex stressors. When living with a substance use disorder, drug or alcohol use becomes the solution.

For people with mental health disorders, this is often referred to as “self-medication.” People living with common mental health challenges, such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, will often turn to substance use to deal with the uncomfortable symptoms of mental illness.

But this pattern can happen to anyone. Drugs and alcohol can be reliable sources of stress relief, help people stop worrying about their problems, or dramatically reduce the symptoms of mental illness — if only for a time.

The problem with substance use disorders is that they will typically lead to a worsening of personal problems over time. Furthermore, they remove the ability for people to deal with these problems in a healthy, productive way. While substance use is often an easy solution, they are typically only a temporary solution.

Problem-Solving Skills in Addiction Recovery

With so many people living with substance use disorders becoming reliant on drug or alcohol use as the primary tool for solving problems, it is essential that people entering recovery learn healthy, sober ways of handling life’s challenges. But learning problem-solving skills in addiction recovery is a process and doesn’t always come easy.

Most people in addiction recovery have a base of problem-solving skills to draw upon. It isn’t always a process of learning new skills but relearning how to utilise the skills you’ve drawn upon in the past. These could include:

  • Healthy communication styles
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Emotional regulation
  • Resiliency
  • Creative problem solving
  • Decision-making
  • Active listening

All of these skills can play an important role in helping you get and stay sober. They help you find and utilise skills to deal with situations without feeling like you need to escape by using drugs or alcohol. They can also prevent you from putting yourself into situations where the risk of relapse is high.

The Importance of Problem-Solving Skills in Addiction Recovery

Problem-solving skills are essential in addiction recovery for a simple reason: they replace the pattern of solving problems with drug or alcohol use. People use drugs and alcohol for a reason. It isn’t simply a matter of physical dependence or genetic predisposition but a way to escape from pain, discomfort, and stress.

The ultimate goal of addiction treatment is to provide people with the tools and resources to handle these challenges without substance use. While it would be an incredible success to relieve people from the pain, discomfort, and stress that leads to substance use entirely — the fact is that these are often simply a part of life.

Only by learning to manage the challenges of life with healthy and productive tools can people sustain their recovery long-term. You need to not only remove yourself from triggers, withdrawal symptoms, and physical dependence but also build a framework for a better life for yourself in recovery.

Learning Problem-Solving Skills

Learning problem-solving skills to replace the patterns of substance use is an ongoing process that will extend far beyond treatment alone. But starting treatment at an addiction treatment centre or with an individual therapist can provide a framework to support your growth and accelerate the process of learning and implementing new tools. There are several different tools and methods that you can start with straight away that help you develop problem-solving skills in addiction recovery.

Working With a Therapist

The most expedient way to learn the problem-solving skills necessary for addiction recovery is to start work with a therapist. Therapists have specialised training in helping people understand and overcome the problems and challenges of daily life. They use evidence-based techniques that can help people deal with any number of day-to-day difficulties and unique situations.

Therapy is typically offered in one of two formats: individual therapy, where you meet one-on-one with a therapist for a focused session, or group therapy, where you meet with a group of people with a similar set of challenges to work on your recovery together.

There are multiple different styles of therapy to choose from as well. Some of the best evidence-based therapy options for learning problem-solving skills include:

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a style of therapy that was specifically designed to help people deal with the challenges associated with trauma. It combines traditional talk therapy approaches with a technique known as bilateral stimulation, which can further accelerate the path to healing.

And while EMDR was designed for trauma, it can help with a number of other common mental health problems as well, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Pain
  • Grief
  • Substance use disorders

EMDR provides people with tools to help them approach difficult situations rather than avoiding them. And while this is an essential tool for helping people overcome trauma, it can be applied to everyday life as well. It is often better to face your problems head-on rather than attempt to avoid or suppress them.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT is one of the most popular and well-studied types of talk therapy, and for a simple reason: it works. CBT is an evidence-based treatment for more than a dozen different mental health conditions and is based upon a simple concept: that your thoughts, behaviours, and emotions all influence one another.

With this core concept in mind, CBT offers several different strategies to help you modify the way you think, feel, and behave. These tools all directly impact your problem-solving skills and can help you develop the tools to overcome life’s challenges with ease.

An example of the strategies offered in CBT would be the concept of cognitive distortions and the tool of reframing. Cognitive distortions are beliefs or thoughts that negatively affect your life and aren’t always in line with reality. For example, some common cognitive distortions include:

  • Mind Reading: Believing that you know what other people are thinking and basing your behaviour on those assumptions
  • Catastrophizing: Constantly imagining the worst possible outcome or always expecting something bad to happen
  • Overgeneralization: Making sweeping conclusions based on limited evidence
  • Should Statements: Creating self-enforcing rules of behaviour on yourself or others
  • Disqualifying the Positive: Always minimising positive experiences or events as though they were mistakes or flukes

Reframing is a tool that CBT therapists use to help people challenge these automatic thoughts. After teaching you to identify cognitive distortions when they happen, your therapist will offer strategies to reframe them in a more realistic light, which can help you function in your life more effectively.

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)

DBT was based on the foundations of CBT, but it adds several new elements and introduces a new format for building problem-solving skills.

Two of the most important additions are an emphasis on acceptance and mindfulness. These techniques help you recognise that not all thoughts, behaviours, or emotions can simply be changed. However, you can learn to accept them and continue moving towards your goals.

DBT typically provides a mix of individual and group therapy and has four primary modules for skill-building:

  • Core mindfulness
  • Distress tolerance
  • Emotion regulation
  • Interpersonal effectiveness

Each of these modules provides specific problem-solving skills and strategies that you can incorporate into your everyday life, relationships, and goals.

Relationship Therapy

One of the most common problem-solving challenges in addiction recovery is within the relationships that matter most. Relationship therapy is designed to help couples work through their problems together, develop healthy communication skills, and change behaviours to build a happier and healthier life together.

A relationship can be an incredible source of intimacy and support. Ensuring that both people in a relationship feel heard, respected, and understood sets a foundation for healthy communication. This not only helps people in early recovery but can create a stable support system to last for decades to come.

Each therapeutic style is suited for multiple challenges, but finding one that works for you can be a process of trial and error. Speaking candidly to a therapist can help you narrow down your options faster and arrive at the most effective modality for your needs.

Staying Sober

All of the different therapeutic techniques listed above typically depend upon your continued sobriety. Staying sober is the best way to develop long-term problem-solving skills, as relapse can quickly lead to people falling into old patterns of behaviour, such as using drugs or alcohol to deal with any and every problem.

Staying sober and developing problem-solving skills are mutually beneficial to each other. Problem-solving helps you to remain sober, and staying sober helps you to develop your problem-solving skills.

Putting Skills Into Practise

Too often, people fall into the trap of learning several healthy problem-solving skills in inpatient or residential addiction treatment but then fail to implement them when they return to living in their communities.

Putting the skills you’ve learnt in treatment into practical application is a critical step. Often, the best way to ensure that the skills you learnt in treatment transfer into your daily life is by continuing care through outpatient services or continued therapy, which can keep you accountable and provide a source of support for your continued growth.

Start Treatment at APN London

APN London proudly offers the best evidence-based treatment for addiction recovery in London. Our comprehensive treatment centre offers both traditional addiction treatment options as well as innovative technologies and treatment interventions, such as ketamine-assisted healing and deep transcranial magnetic stimulation.

By bringing together both traditional and innovative options, our programme provides our clients with every option they may need to achieve a lasting recovery, holistic mental health, and total personal wellbeing. Recovering from addiction isn’t always easy — but having this multitude of tools at your disposal can amplify your chances of success.

To get started with treatment, reach out to APN by calling 0203 984 7699 to speak to our addiction and mental health specialists. Alternatively, you can fill out our online contact form for more information.


  • Magill, M., Ray, L., Kiluk, B., Hoadley, A., Bernstein, M., Tonigan, J. S., & Carroll, K. (2019). A meta-analysis of cognitive-behavioral therapy for alcohol or other drug use disorders: Treatment efficacy by contrast condition. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 87(12), 1093–1105.
  • Haktanır, A., & Callender, K. A. (2020). Meta-analysis of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) for treating substance use. Research on Education and Psychology (REP), 4(Special Issue), 74-87.