The impact is evidenced in reduced worker productivity, crime and dropout rates and other forms of deviant activities

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1 Coping Styles in Persons Recovering from Substance Abuse Kathleen Valtonen, Michele Sogren and Jacqueline Cameron-Padmore Coping is a very basic human competency and one of the most important personal skills This qualitative study was conducted in , in a target group of persons recovering from substance abuse. Our aim was to examine the types of coping strategies which subjects have previously used and learned in response to stressful and problematic life situations Context and rationale of the study The problem of substance abuse in Trinidad and Tobago is a major one. The use and abuse of substances such as alcohol and illicit drugs are increasingly becoming social problems that are threatening the fabric of the society The impact is evidenced in reduced worker productivity, crime and dropout rates and other forms of deviant activities The argument proposed is that a deeper scientific understanding of the coping strategies of the individual, and the development pattern of these coping strategies, are fundamental to the shaping of such preventive programmes Theoretical and conceptual frame Definition: Coping has been defined as a response aimed at diminishing the physical, emotional and psychological burden that is linked to stressful life events and daily hassles. Both problem-focused and emotion-focused coping play a part in the response Judgments about the suitability of a coping strategy should be made contextually. For example, defences such as denial

2 might, under certain conditions, be appropriate and quite successful. Coping constitutes constantly changing cognitive, behavioural and emotional efforts to manage particular external and/or internal demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the individual Range of coping styles were clustered into the three main categories of problem-focused coping, emotion-focused coping and coping style based on social support Problem-focused coping is a coping process that is directed at altering the situation that is causing distress, directing attention toward the problem in an effort to prevent or control it The individual can engage in confrontational and/ or interpersonal activity (which can sometimes take an aggressive mode) Emotion-focused coping these strategies are directed at managing distress rather than changing the problem situation. This category includes nine types (?) of strategies. Distancing and escape avoidance strategies Selective attention strategies Acquiescence as a strategy (going with the flow of events, accepting the situation Coping through social support Methodology The third category of strategies is based on support seeking and using social support resources. The individual would be inclined to seek out and interact with others as one strategy to moderate stress. Generally, the benefits of social support span practical, material help and emotional support

3 The methodology of the present study was qualitative The coping responses related to the following 1 schooling; 2 entering the labour market/finding an employment role and niche; 3 life event stressor (bereavement/loss); 4 environmental stressor (rejection, domestic abuse in the home, physical abuse). Measured was also: sense of control, goals of individuals and the subjects level of self-esteem The target group consisted of thirty-three subjects Results: stressors and coping Stressors and coping related to schooling Learning impediments and difficulties with reading and spelling posed major challenges to the completion of schooling. In the face of such difficulty, subjects generally reported engaging in behavioural responses such as bullying, disruptions in class and drug use. Subjects could not elaborate much on their coping responses with learning impediments or difficulties in accessing education, which indicated that, in the main, as children, they had little choice but to accept and somehow make the best of their conditions Stressors and coping relating to employment The majority of the subjects had non-continuous labour market relations The issue of accessing employment and joining the labour market was not presented in our data as one generally calling for, or having called for, coping in any marked way Life event stressors and coping strategies All of the respondents had experienced significant losses through death, divorce or separation

4 This area of coping with loss was characterized by emotion-focused patterns relating, naturally, to handling grief. The data showed that, in addition to grieving mechanisms such as crying and/or acquiescence, drug use, as an escape/avoidant mechanism, was a very prevalent medium of coping These losses led to the onset of drug use in just under a quarter of the subjects Environmental stressors and coping Major environmental stressors encountered by the subjects were domestic violence (ten subjects), alcoholism among relatives (fourteen subjects), rejection and abandonment (fifteen subjects) and surrogate parenting (fourteen subjects). Not unexpectedly, the known attend- ant phenomena of physical abuse, sexual abuse, poverty and abandonment were identified as contributory stressors the respondents experienced feelings of anger, resentment, pain, constant fear and anxiety, neglect and loneliness the respondents adopted defensive, accommodative or self-destructive roles and behaviours to cope with and manage these stressful life situations. Interest- ingly, drug use was the most outstanding method of coping. Domestic violence: Subjects engaged in distress reduction and avoidant mechanisms, e.g. running away from home. In the case of subjects who identified the greatest stressor as rejection and abandonment in childhood, the coping mechanisms were vividly and pain- fully recalled: trying to blank out the particular parent, pushing the pain to the back of the mind, and trying not to think about it. These distancing and avoidant mechanisms were combined in several cases with seeking escape in drugs. Poor parents: Crying and turning to drug use were also reported as coping mechanisms to handle this particular stressor individuals coping mechanisms were overwhelmed at the time. Of necessity, subjects were confined to using distancing and escape/avoidant mechanisms to reduce distress. In addition, the imperative of acquiescing to the prevailing circumstances

5 Social support and problem-focused coping Less than a quarter of the subjects (six) reported seeking out and using social support and acceptance in coping with the different types of stressful events The household, care-giving and socialization situation of many subjects often might not have lent itself to this category of coping. Under a quarter of the subjects (seven) reported using problem-focused methods, such as finding alternative living arrangements when it became possible, getting into sports, taking steps to make acquaintance with the neighbours when placed with siblings at a surrogate paren Other dimensions in the data Conclusion The goals articulated by the respondents were, as a rule, clear and positive, and their self-esteem was high We would suggest that the high levels of self-esteem, very positively set goals and reported sense of control over the life situation are, in fact, manifestations of strong cognitive restructuring, positive re-appraisal, comforting cognitions, which constitute types of emotion- focused mechanisms for coping

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