Learning to tolerate discomfort is a skill that will frequently be useful in addiction recovery.
Learning to tolerate discomfort, or “distress tolerance,” is a specific skill taught as part of dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT. DBT is a specific form of cognitive behavioral therapy developed to help people with borderline personality disorder, but which has also proven effective for other challenging conditions, including addiction, eating disorders, and suicidal ideation. DBT is frequently used in addiction treatment programs. Since it is typically used to treat people with high emotional reactivity, it puts particular emphasis on the ability to tolerate emotional stress. This prevents you from making impulsive decisions and gives you time to calm yourself down, leading to better outcomes.
There are many ways distress tolerance is useful. First, it’s a way of dealing more constructively with the certain trials and low spots that are a part of everyday life.
Most people with substance use disorders will tell you that stressful situations exacerbated their alcohol and other drug use. In other words, substances are a way of avoiding the discomfort. Through the recovery process, we learn to evaluate our own behaviors, turn our thoughts to others, and avoid manufacturing our own misery. Unfortunately, discomfort (both emotional and physical) can’t always be avoided. While psychotherapy can help you resolve deep emotional pain, there will always be unpleasant situations in life. It’s a major asset in recovery if you can experience that temporary distress and not feel like you have to escape it immediately. This is mainly a process of learning to be mindful of discomfort. You can accept it as normal and temporary. This doesn’t mean you have to condone whatever is happening or be happy about it, just that you acknowledge what’s happening, acknowledge how you feel about it, and recognize that you can tolerate feeling uncomfortable.
Distress tolerance is also necessary for building other skills necessary for recovery.
The chances are good that much of what you’ll have to do in recovery will be unfamiliar and will sometimes make you uncomfortable. People are often uncomfortable talking to a therapist at first, or sharing with a sponsor. Exercise is typically a central part of wellness, but many people find exercising challenging or frustrating at first. Recovery is also likely to involve difficult conversations with friends and family. In some of those conversations, you’ll have to own up to the harms you’ve caused; in others, you will have to set boundaries. Neither is an easy conversation to have. The more you learn to tolerate discomfort, the more willing you will be to face these kinds of challenges, and the quicker you will progress.
Origins Behavioral Healthcare is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use disorders, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety.
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