How many of us know individuals living in high risk environments, which seem to possess resilience that helps them refrain from alcohol and other drug problems? One current challenge is to identify these protective factors and determine how they can be instilled. One of the risks is self-medicating with drugs and alcohol when feeling optimally stressed. Stress prevents us from doing new things and overtime it leads to distress – depression – anxiety and lastly, functional impairment. The challenge is where does one draw the line in the sand from “I am ok”, ”I can manage my use” to “I need to see someone” “I need help”. Preventing and identifying stress problems early on can prevent long term illness. This is true during the recovery process. Relapse is part of the recovery process. Relapse happens way before the actual relapse does, and if you are aware of the signs before, you may likely be able to heal with support and experience post traumatic growth instead of deeper stress injuries.
Focusing on protective factors helps one to explore and build upon strengths from within. Holding on to our protective factors can act as a preventative for substance use now and in the future. Some Protective Factors include
- Physiology/genes play a big factor whether you carry on addiction. Family addictions increase risk for becoming addicted. Therefore, knowledge about genes let family members know they may be at risk and have options not to use.
- High Self-esteem: being able to feel comfortable about yourself and finding strengths within will help one conquer fears.
- Commitment to School, society, religion or spirituality: Being committed to something outside of ourselves, for example, good grades or being part of a bigger thing for the greater good.
- Interest in Achievement-Goal Setting: Being able to set short and long-term goals. Sometimes we have fantasies of what we really want in life. Creating SMART goals will help us set specific goals we want to achieve to get to the long-term goals.
- Mental Health: The key is knowing when you need to seek help and understand you have troubles – we have all experienced some time of need for help – at different ages and different stages in life. Risk includes prolonged anxiety and depression – not just common ups and downs. If left untreated it could involve the brain and damage relationships, decreased functioning, loss of ability for physiological reaction, and emotional regulation. This can eventually lead to self-medication. Increased risk for depression or other mental health issue is if someone in the family has it. Learning tools in Managing/identifying Emotions and Triggers is helpful.
- Negative Attitudes Towards Deviant Behaviors: Sometimes mental health issues can lead to negative behavior – what does this mean to you? If you see others doing what is not right what are you going to do? Take time to explore your attitude toward deviant behaviors.
- Basic Problem Solving and coping skills: Having effective coping skills and hobbies, for example, Art and sports, can be a good example for a healthy outlet when experiencing negative emotions. Another option is Problem solving by stating the problem, naming the goal, apply all possible solutions, and pick the best solution and experiment with it.
- Understanding Social Norms: Belief in Norms of Society Laws: Not all of us may agree with the law – but laws are the greater good of society and we need them. We need them to avoid chaos and to keep us safe. When we have a positive attitude about social norms, we are more likely to follow the law and understand the consequences.
- Social Competence: Socially Interactive, Emotionally Stable, Resilient and Positive Attitude, Recognizing the Needs of Others: Resilient and keeping up when needed, compassionate and looking at the needs of others. Keep a positive attitude and go for it!
Resilience = Awareness + Action – Being Aware in recognizing patterns and situations plus taking Action in practicing emotional regulation skills and effective communication equals Resilience.
- Avoid Risk Taking and Thrill-Seeking Behaviors: There are healthy vs. unhealthy risks. Positive risks – skiing or going on a rollercoaster ride and conquering fear… Things that naturally increase our dopamine levels. Negative risks include drug and alcohol use. Things that actually deplete dopamine levels overtime.
- Good Family Management: Low Family Conflict, Parent-Child Involvement, Supervision and Monitoring, Positive Feedback and Evaluation from Parents: Children may need positive feedback from parents. Supervision, curfew monitoring, and rules are all important for structure and monitoring. This not only keeps them away from trouble, but also instills a sense of security from within by knowing limitations and what to expect. Couples also thrive in low conflict and good family management. How many times do you watch the same dance between couples illustrating conflict and cycles? Where one may be doing the Tango and one doing the Salsa? Recognizing the dance context between the couple can provide a level of awareness that sets the foundation to identifying action steps and increasing resilience. A dance is not quick to learn and requires practice, just like Communication skills and Emotional Regulation.
- External Support System-Friends Not Involved with Drugs or alcohol: Are we involved with friends outside who are not involved with drugs and alcohol and who have good goals? Or are we involved with friends who are involved with drugs and alcohol? Make sure social support is good for all family members.