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Why is Mental Resilience Important in SUD Recovery?

Most mental health experts and researchers define “mental resilience” or “toughness” as the ability to cope successfully in the face of adversity, especially with the absence of psychopathology or abnormal cognition.1,2,3

To put things simply, mental resilience is the ability for a person to keep functioning normally despite being put in a highly stressful situation.

The concept of building mental resilience is central to the treatment of substance use disorder (SUD).2,3 Perhaps the most defining thing about SUD is how it directly interferes with a person’s ability to make good decisions. Building mental resilience can be key to empowering people with SUD to continuously and sustainably make better decisions regarding their health, relationships, and overall well-being.

Here, we’ll discuss the context and value of mental resilience when it comes to SUD recovery. Contact our team at Boston Drug Treatment Centers to learn more.

Benefits of Mental Resilience

Benefits of improved mental resilience for SUD include:2,3,4,5,6

  • Improves ability to handle stress-related substance misuse
  • Prevents and mitigates damage from negative emotions like trauma, depression, and anxiety
  • Creates a mindset of positivity
  • Improves confidence and self-image
  • Enables greater success personally and professionally
  • Allows one to “bounce back” after a setback
  • Reduces risk factors for relapse that prevent a lasting recovery

Building Mental Resilience in Individuals with SUD

Mental resilience is often critical for helping individuals with SUD achieve a successful — and sustainable — recovery. However, mental resilience does not get built overnight. Creating it in most cases involves learning and internalizing behaviors and attitudes that set one up for success. Regular psychotherapy, particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy, and training oneself to build positive habits are the main tools for building mental resilience. 3,4,5,6,7

While the same principle works for individuals recovering from SUD, the existence of SUD and other co-occurring mental health conditions can create challenging conditions for recovery. For instance, people with alcohol or opioid use disorder may need medication-assisted therapy and other interventions to make them stable enough to receive the necessary training for mental resilience.2,5,6,7

Additionally, as is often the case with many serious mental health disorders, the best treatment approaches tend to be specific to each individual. Getting good outcomes out of therapy and mental resilience training is often a matter of being able to try out different methods as well as being able to give them sufficient time to produce results.

Through all this, it’s also important to note that having mental resilience does not mean the recovering individual will no longer feel cravings or negative emotions from their triggers.1,3,4,5,7 Rather, it is akin to physical strength training, where one has to gradually build muscle and slowly increase their capacity and strength over time.

How Recovering Individuals Can Safely Build Mental Resilience

Ways to increase your capacity to positively deal with adversity and potential relapses include but are not limited to the following: 2,3,4,5,6,7

  • Take care of your physical health.Eating a healthy diet, hydrating properly, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep are necessary foundations for recovering from most illnesses, including psychiatric ones like SUD. While they won’t ensure mental resilience or recovery by themselves, making these activities a priority can make it easier to handle any challenge to your sobriety.2,3,5
  • Prioritize positive influences. Attend your recovery support groups regularly and consider being part of a positive community. Get closer with family members, work or school colleagues, as well as people at church and other community groups who do not encourage or elicit negative behaviors.2,3,6,7
  • Recognize and learn about your emotions. Understanding what you are feeling is critical if you want to be able to resist or productively channel negative impulses. Understanding and accepting how you feel can help you prevent relapses and other maladaptive behaviors. Regular psychotherapy, mediation sessions, or even structured quiet time can be good ways to become more emotionally literate.2,3,5,6,7
  • Be goal-oriented. Not having realistic goals or being aimless can demotivate you from going through with recovery. This can be bad news for achieving long-term recovery outcomes as well as mental resilience. Having a set of small, easily achievable recovery goals that build up to a big goal is usually the better way to go through recovery. The American Psychological Association also recommends journaling as a way to not only better contextualize your goals but to also frame your efforts as a gradual day-by-day process.3,4,6,7

Find Programs That Help Build Better Mental Resilience

Mental resilience not only allows you to succeed in recovering from substance misuse, but it can be a valuable asset in your personal and professional endeavors as well. To find treatment programs in the Greater Boston area that promote mental resilience, you can call us at (857) 577-8193.



  1. De Terte, I., & Stephens, C. (2014). Psychological resilience of workers in high‐risk occupations. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/smi.2627


  1. Alim, T. N., Lawson, W. B., Feder, A., Iacoviello, B. M., Saxena, S., Bailey, C. R., … & Neumeister, A. (2012). Resilience to meet the challenge of addiction: psychobiology and clinical considerationsAlcohol research: current reviews.


  1. Yaugher, A., Tim Keady, T., Parkhurst, E., Campbell, E., & Brown, M. (2020, September). How Building Resilience Helps Prevent Substance UseUtah State University 


  1. Cohn, M. A., Fredrickson, B. L., Brown, S. L., Mikels, J. A., & Conway, A. M. (2009). Happiness unpacked: positive emotions increase life satisfaction by building resilienceEmotion9(3), 361.


  1. Padesky, C.A. and Mooney, K.A. (2012). Strengths‐based cognitive–behavioural therapy: A four‐step model to build resilienceClinical Psychology and Psychotherapy19, 283-290.


  1. Griffin, K. W., & Botvin, G. J. (2010). Evidence-based interventions for preventing substance use disorders in adolescentsChild and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics19(3), 505-526.


  1. Saletnik, L. (2018). Building Personal ResilienceAORN Journal107(2), 175-178.

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