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Life Skills in Recovery

Table of Contents

What Are Life Skills?

Life skills are the tools that a person needs to navigate through the challenges of everyday life. While some people may think these skills come naturally, the opposite is often true. A person can build these life skills through education and practice.1

Another way to think of life skills is as abilities. To build an ability, a person has to learn it and practice it regularly. If they put effort into it, they will usually improve.1 Recovering from substance use disorder in an addiction treatment facility is often the time people are taught these vital skills.

World Health Organization’s Key Areas of Life Skills

The World Health Organization’s Department of Mental Health identified several key areas of life skills that are almost universally relevant to people of all ages and cultures.1

Communication

Communication skills include things that are both spoken and unspoken. Examples of communication skills include:1

Ability to express feelings

Assertiveness 

Conflict management and resolution 

Listening carefully to others

Negotiation skills

The ability to refuse 

Problem Solving

Critical thinking and careful decision-making skills are important in helping a person guide their life. A person with problem-solving skills can think about how their actions affect their future as well as how their actions affect others. Sometimes, a person who lacks problem solving skills can only see one option when it comes to making a decision. Someone who has problem solving skills can usually identify at least two or more solutions. This helps a person to choose what will ideally work best for them and their loved ones.

Creative Thinking

Creative thinking allows a person to see beyond the possibilities of their world as they know it. It gives them goals and ambition. A person doesn’t necessarily have to be artistic to build creative thinking life skills. Many people use creativity in all different professional fields because there is often more than one way to accomplish a goal. Through creative thinking, a person can find new paths as to how to accomplish this.

Self-Awareness

Self-awareness falls under the “self-management” skill set where a person learns how to better handle stress and manage their time. Part of this involves learning how to recognize negative thoughts and turn them into positive ones. Learning ways to achieve calm, such as through relaxation techniques, can also help significantly.

Assertiveness

Assertiveness means that a person knows how to stand up for themselves, their thoughts, and their opinions, when the right moment presents itself.1 A person who has the inability to be assertive may have difficulty refusing things that aren’t good for them or succumb to peer pressure. Learning how to be assertive, yet caring for others, is a delicate balance that takes practice and effort.

Resilience

Resilience is the ability to rebound after disappointment and loss.1 A person must feel and recognize negative emotions such as anger, grief, or anxiety and learn how to deal with them in positive ways whenever possible. Ultimately, a person must accept that they have faced hurdles in their life, but they have the power and promise to overcome them.

Other Common Life Skills

A variety of life skills exist. The following are some that are especially helpful in ensuring a person can function at a high level to achieve their goals.

Willingness to Learn

A person has to be willing to make several key changes in their lives and constantly re-evaluate these goals. In addition, a person can build life skills by learning from these mistakes.

Listening Skills

Social skills are a vital part of life skills. Listening skills is included in this. When a person can actively listen and interpret what a person is saying, they are better able to respond and understand what a person needs. Being a good listener is also an important part of being a good friend.

Math Skills

A person doesn’t have to know all the ins and outs of algebra or geometry to have math skills. However, math skills such as adding and subtracting to balance a checkbook, calculating prices on sale, and other daily mathematic activities.

Reading and Writing Skills

Reading and writing (such as writing in a journal) can help a person relieve stress. Additionally, these skills help a person apply for jobs and are often used in a job setting.

Why Teaching Life Skills is Important

In life, it’s important to not assume that every person has received the same education and foundation of life skills training.1 Teaching life skills to people of all ages can help a person identify what they know and how they feel about what they know. They can use life skills to ideally help adopt healthy behavior patterns and enhance their decision making.

Benefits of Learning Life Skills

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), some of the benefits of learning life skills include:1

Reducing special health risks

Improving self-image and self-esteem 

Increasing healthy behaviors 

Protecting one’s self from harm 

Reducing violent behavior 

The UNODC also found that teaching life skills training was more effective in delaying the onset of marijuana and alcohol use in young people when compared to adolescents who did not participate in life skills training.1

A study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine studied 6,329 students and found a positive influence of life skills training on drug abuse reduction, prevention of suicide, and AIDS prevention.2 The same journal article reported on a survey regarding how life skills training affected a person’s attitudes toward drug abuse.

Following life skills training, 37.74% of participants reported that were more informed and more assertive to say no to drugs if offered in the future.2

Essential Life Skills to Learn in Recovery

A person must practice life skills training regularly, and addiction treatment in an inpatient or outpatient program can be the beginning of that.

Practicing Self-Care

Self-care is a hot topic in today’s world, but it means that a person takes care of their mental and physical health.3 When a person first starts in their sobriety, self-care measures can start small. These steps can include:

Clean living space

Engaging in good personal hygiene 

Taking even 15 minutes a day for a person to relieve stress 

These small self-care measures can help a person move forward.

Good Nutrition

Many rehabilitation programs will offer nutritional counseling and even cooking classes. Some programs may even have a registered dietitian that counsel a person based on their overall health and weight goals.

Building Healthy Relationships

Substance abuse can affect a person’s relationships with their friends and family. Sobriety can ideally provide an opportunity to re-build or strengthen these relationships as well as meet new, sober friends who support a person.

Taking control of your health

Healthy behaviors can help a person feel physically better as well as know they are doing something good for their health. Examples of healthy behaviors include exercising, eating healthy food, and getting enough sleep at night. If a person has other chronic medical conditions, taking steps to better manage those (such as going to a doctor for a check-up) can help.

Life Skills for Avoiding Relapse

Many addiction treatment programs will offer life skills treatment sessions. While a program may not always specifically call them life skills classes, the term often applies. At its heart, life skills training is about self-care, and making the kinds of decisions that keep a person away from drugs and alcohol. Examples of some of the life skills a substance abuse treatment program may offer include:

Avoiding Risky Situations

Good decision making involves trying to remove as much temptation to return to substance abuse whenever possible. This includes avoiding risky situations, such as going to a bar or party where a person used to use drugs or drink at.

Developing Coping Mechanisms

Often, a substance was a way that a person previously coped with their stresses. But this is not a healthy way to cope with stress. Learning coping mechanisms can help a person find healthier ways to deal with their anxiety. Examples include meditation, deep breathing, and other stress-relieving measures.

Managing Stress and Emotions

Learning to recognize a person’s emotions and how to interpret these emotions can help a person move forward with their life after they struggled with substance abuse. To think that a person won’t have struggles after they achieve sobriety is unrealistic. However, learning how to better cope with these emotions is a step forward.

Developing a Routine

Routine can be very helpful to a person in their sobriety. Establishing healthy behaviors, such as getting enough sleep at night, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and more can help reduce the likelihood that a person will relapse.

Other Important Life Skills Needed After Rehab

When a person struggles with addiction, their brain and body are often singularly focused on the substance or substances they abuse.3 This doesn’t leave much room for life skills that could help a person find more purpose and success in life. Some of the important life skills a person will need after rehab include the following:

Finding a Job

Some of the life skills that can help a person find a job post-rehabilitation include how to create a resume, finding jobs that fit a person’s skills, and applying for the jobs.3 Some treatment programs may offer help with job placement or in finding programs that have additional training opportunities, such as vocational programs.3

Managing Your Finances

Financial management is important to help a person achieve their independence and learn how to achieve a stable financial lifestyle. Some of the important aspects of financial life skills training include:3

Opening a bank account

Learning how to save money

Paying off debt

Learning how to create and live on a budget 

Often, many people do not manage their money effectively when they abuse a substance because they may spend or overextend themselves on buying that particular substance. Learning how to better manage money can help a person feel successful in recovery and life.

A study from H & R Block of 2,000 Americans found 57% of adults reported a course on money management in high school would have benefited them in their future.4 The study also found 44% felt they would benefit from a class on how to file taxes.

Home Maintenance

Learning the care and upkeep of an apartment or house can help a person learn to care for something other than themselves. Maintaining and showing pride in a home can help a person feel accomplished.

Cooking

Nutrition can play a key role in a person’s recovery. Good, healthy foods can help a person feel more energetic and gain an overall improved sense of health. Cooking classes can enhance the number of dishes or ways a person can prepare certain food types.

Sober Living Can Include a Set of Life Skills

Following participation in a rehabilitation program, a person may choose to live in a sober living facility. This could include a home or apartment where a person lives with fellow individuals who are refraining from using drugs or alcohol. Even if a person is living on their own, the following are skills a person can build in recovery.

Being Able to Ask for Help

Identifying people to reach out to when a person is struggling or concerned about relapse can help them feel stronger and supported in their sobriety. A person shouldn’t feel afraid to ask for help if they need it, especially when they have people around them who care for them.

Accepting Personal Responsibility

Accepting personal responsibility is a life skill that falls under the category of self-awareness. It’s important a person understand how their decisions ultimately led them to substance abuse and continued substance abuse.5 When a person accepts responsibility for their actions, they can also accept that what happens to them next is up to them.

Substance Abuse Groups

Some substance abuse groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART recovery may incorporate life skills in their group. There are also other support groups designed to help a person enhance their marketability for jobs.

Substance Abuse Group Topics to Discuss

When a substance abuse group meets to talk about life skills, the group often starts with what each individual knows about life skills already.5 They may also discuss some of the positive attributes or strengths in life skills that a person has as well as some opportunities for growth.

Substance Abuse Group Activities

Group activities for life skills may include some of the following:5

Debates 

Educational games, such as trivia about certain topics related to life skills 

Group discussions 

Practicing skills, such as active listening 

Role playing 

Exploring life skills through different activities can enhance a person’s chances to practice their newly acquired skills.

Learn New Skills for Life

People teach life skills as a way to prevent substance abuse or other potential harmful decisions or to help people rebuild their lives after they struggle with substance abuse. Contact us if you want to learn more about the life skill training we offer.