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Substance Misuse

Substance misuse is a health issue that impacts many people. It is not a weakness or mark of bad character. It can happen to anyone.

People who misuse substances are often surprised by the ways drugs or alcohol crept into their lives and became an issue. The reason for this is simple- addictive substances (like drugs and alcohol) actually change the way our brain works. In fact, one of the first brain changes that occurs is that substances hijack the part of our brain that controls our cravings, tricking us into wanting drugs or alcohol more frequently and in larger amounts.

Blaming ourselves or our loved ones for addiction is not useful. For many people, recovering from substance misuse requires help from a health care provider, counseling, and possibly medications. Try to keep in mind that judgement and unkindness stands in the way of getting help and recovering. On the other hand, compassion, love for others and yourself, and support opens doors and saves lives.

To navigate life’s journey without being pulled off course by substances, consider:

Building a sober network – Be open to new relationships and build a sober network of reliable, trustworthy friends who you can call at any time of need.

Going to 12-step meetings – Being part of a 12-step program can offer a way to reduce or stop substance use.

Participating in traditions and growing your wellness – Speak with an Elder who can connect and guide you with traditional principles, values, and stories to promote balance mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Building overall wellness is tough, but the payoffs can be huge.

Learning mindfulness meditation – Use mindfulness meditation techniques to help calm your mind, body, and emotions.

Keeping busy – Replace old actions with positive ones. Check things off your to-do list. Do things you have been putting off. Watch TV, dance, play music, read a book, do what will make you feel good at the end of the day, and the morning after, too.

Staying healthy – Part of the recovery process means getting healthy physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Treat yourself to nutritious, satisfying meals and nourish your body with vitamins and nutrients. Exercise regularly. Being strong and active was part of native daily routines. Turn exercise into an outlet to recharge your energy and relieve anxiety, stresses, and feelings of depression. Connect spiritually and work on your mental resilience.

Journaling –Writing can be a great way to work out any thoughts that you are struggling with. It can also help you deeply reflect on substance use and finding ways to stay healthy and balanced.

Talking to a therapist, counselor, health worker, or your sponsor –Your sponsor or your counselor/therapist are there to listen to you and create a plan for coping with substance misuse and staying well. Because substance misuse is a medical issue, your doctor can help you as well. At times, this may include medications that lessen cravings for substances or block the effects of substances. They can also connect you with valuable resources to support your recovery journey.

Practicing gratitude – Gratitude is one of the most important and empowering coping skills you can have. Take time to appreciate the sacredness of the things around you. For many of us, practicing gratitude and appreciation for the good things in our lives is important. Plus, focusing on the things we appreciate trains our mind to see the positive beautiful things in the world, rather than focusing on the negative. Although having gratitude may seem too simple to be effective, it can actually help rewire you brain and have a big impact on your life.

For more information on Wellbriety, check out White Bison. White Bison offers sobriety, recovery, addictions prevention, and wellness/Wellbriety learning resources to Native Americans or call 1-877-871-1495.

Acknowledgements: The coping strategies in this article were originally developed by turnbridge.com, a website that is a resource for people seeking addiction and mental health recovery information and inspiration. Also, information about substance misuse was adapted from materials that can be found at npaihb.org/opioid, which includes a variety of resources on opioid misuse, like the Trickster Tale: Outsmarting Opioids Through Education and Action.

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