Getting back on track after a crisis

Recovering from a traumatic event or crisis can be really hard, but relying on alcohol or drugs to help you get through it could be more detrimental in the long-run. Here are a few steps that may help you rebuild and get back on track.

Getting back on track after a crisis

When a personal crisis hits, the effects can be long-lasting. After a traumatic event, you might be feeling intense pain and distress, and understandably look for ways around you to ease those feelings.

Some people look to alcohol, prescription medication or other drugs as a way of helping themselves cope during a stressful time. A number of recent studies suggest between 25 and 75 per cent of addictions develop following traumatic exposure. Whether used as an escape or distraction, as a means of numbing pain or way to feel ‘normal’ again, turning to a drug to help you cope with trauma and stress can be a slippery slope leading to addiction. Drugs can only provide temporary relief, can delay the natural psychological healing processes, and may result in some poor decisions along the way.

In thinking about very public and memorable examples of those who have used drugs to manage pain or grief, you only need to look at stories of celebrities like Anna Nicole Smith or Whitney Houston to see how devastating substance use can be. Using alcohol, illicit drugs or abusing prescription drugs, while perhaps providing a sense of immediate relief, can have a range of detrimental impacts for the user and those around them later down the track. Unfortunately, Smith is not an isolated incident, with too many people – on and off the big screen – experiencing tragic outcomes.

How can you get yourself back on track after a crisis or traumatic event?

Different people deal with the same event in different ways, and in their own time. Taking a quick glance at the evolution of grief psychology reinforces these differences. Despite adjustments in treatment and intervention approaches, and changes from early Freudian thinking, through to the establishment of the phases of grief, one thing is clear – the experience is not the same for everyone. It’s important to understand there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ way of dealing with traumatic situations, but there are some steps that may help in rebuilding and getting back on track.

1. Let your close friends or family know what’s going on

Letting your family and close friends know what’s going on may be helpful, even if this is months or years after experiencing trauma. You might feel the need to hide what’s going on inside, particularly when you feel most vulnerable, but letting people around you know that you are going through a rough patch will help them understand your actions and also allow them to provide support where they can. While those same family and friends may also have been involved in the trauma and worked through their own processes, everyone is different and you may take longer and need a little extra support.

2. Get yourself into a proper routine

Withdrawing from normal routines can be a big sign that you’re not dealing with your trauma and may need to seek further help. If you have had help or feel you have enough support and you’re ready to deal with your trauma, getting yourself into a routine is an important part of achieving a sense of normality and moving on. Start small and plan your morning, your afternoon, then your day, your week and so on. Getting some rhythm and regularity in your life will also add a sense of achievement and progression as you move on. It will help draw focus onto the present and future, as opposed to spending time dwelling on the past.

3. Seek professional help

Having friends or family you can rely on for support is great, but those people don’t necessarily have the expertise required to advise you on how to deal with what’s going on, particularly if alcohol or drugs are involved. It’s always a good idea to have someone who is a professional and a bit more removed from the situation to provide the most objective advice and guidance, in addition to the support family and friends may offer. If you’re a bit uncertain about this step then you can try a helpline or website first.

What if substance use becomes an issue?

While most people are aware using drugs is not the best way of coping with a stressful situation, it’s really tough to know how you might cope under difficult circumstances, and for some, drugs seem like a refuge during a challenging time. If you do feel yourself taking this path, it’s really important to talk to someone and get some help and support.

If you have a friend who has suffered a trauma and is struggling to deal with it, you may be concerned or even know they are using drugs to help them cope.

To best support them, try to avoid being judgemental or patronising, and remember honesty is the best policy. Let the person know you’re concerned, and also make clear to them you are here for support whenever they are ready. If you, or a friend needs some help or advice with cannabis use, our trained Cannabis Helpline staff are ready to listen and support. Lifeline is also available 24/7 if you need someone to talk to, and can be reached on 13 11 14.

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