Trusted Content

Life Skills Therapy In Addiction Treatment

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

Medically reviewed by

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

January 23, 2019

Life skills therapy is supposed to teach individuals how to go back to living a normal life after overcoming addiction with lessons on a variety of important activities such as cooking, job skills, and even social skills. We will sometimes implement these activities into programming alongside traditional evidence-based methods to assist patients in the recovery process.

Addiction is a disease that can impact various aspects of a person’s life. Alongside evidence-based treatment methods, the activities in life skills therapy may help patients with the recovery process.

Understanding Life Skills Therapy

Life skills therapy is the process of teaching a person how to live their life self-sufficiently and independently. In its most basic form, it will teach a person everyday and essential skills like cooking food for themselves, cleaning their home, balancing a personal budget, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, finding work, succeeding in a job, mastering interpersonal skills and communication techniques, and exercising proper behavior within social, relationship, and vocational spheres.

The type of skills taught will vary depending on the needs of the person. Obviously, if they have no trouble cleaning for themselves and enjoy exercising, they won’t need to relearn those skills. However, during the course of the addiction, a person may have lost the desire or knowledge that is necessary to upkeep and execute these critical tasks.

An addiction may also cause a person to lose the ability to make healthy eating choices and subsequently fallen into a state of malnutrition. Malnutrition is a problem that is particularly problematic for those with a drug addiction: one study found that almost 93 percent of all people who suffered from addiction were underweight. The reasons for this health problem varied, but included a person neglecting to eat or making poor eating choices. Whatever the reasons, life skills therapy can help by teaching a person how to eat a balanced diet by practicing healthy and informed food buying choices.

The first step in this process is to identify what areas of a person’s life have been neglected due to their addiction. This isn’t a judgmental process, but one that helps a person take stock of where they are struggling, with the aim of granting them the support they need to regain these abilities.

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The Benefits Of This Treatment Method

You might be surprised at just how effective and holistic life skills therapy is when used properly and in combination with an evidence-based treatment plan. Some potential benefits of life skills therapy activities may include the ways that it:

  • Clears a person’s mind and helps them to refocus on recovery – Sadly, addiction often takes over a person’s life and forces them to behave in ways that may be unhealthy. Relearning these skills may help them to not only get clear of the dangerous substances impacting their life, but it also lets them jump back into their life with less of a struggle and encourages them to focus on their recovery.
  • Provides financial stability – Addiction is often a financially devastating problem for a variety of reasons. People may spend a lot of money ensuring that they have access to the substance, they may owe money for legal fees and fines, or in the worst cases, they may lose their job and home. Life skills therapy may help to break this cycle and aid a person in regaining the financial stability they need.
  • Nurses them back to good health – Malnutrition is just one of the health problems caused by addiction. Many substances heavily impact the lungs, heart, liver, and other parts of a person’s body. Mastering the tools of life skills therapy may give them the strength that they need to stay focused on recovery in a positive way, while safegaurding and investing in their health.
  • Bridges social gaps and teaches effective socialization techniques – Drug and alcohol use can serve as a “social lubricant” for many people, and those who suffer from addiction may struggle to socialize without these substances. By completing life skills therapy, they may learn how to communicate positively and master the socialization skills that will help them build stronger support groups and healthier relationships.

The idea here is to teach a person how to live a life without drugs in a healthy and positive way. Life skills therapy may slowly pull a person out of the grip of addiction and integrate them back into society in a structured and mindful way.

More Complex Life Skills Lessons

The life skills mentioned above aren’t the only things learned during a life skills therapy session. These activities may help to foster a variety of complex interpersonal skills that will help a person function better with loved ones and to maintain a life free from addiction. The following lessons may be learned in life skills therapy:

  • Maintaining positive recovery goals – These lessons may help people master a variety of coping mechanisms to fight relapse and focus on sobriety. For example, they might learn how to identify addiction triggers and ways to prevent them.
  • Building social networks – The socialization skills learned earlier may create a positive group of sober friends that will help a person stay clean. Being surrounded by positive and supportive people should be a major life goal, even beyond addiction recovery.
  • Resolving family issues – Addiction may have caused problems within a family that may feel impossible for a person to resolve. Life skills lessons may teach them how to reach out to their family members in a healing manner that supports stronger and more lasting relationships.
  • Better communication style – Communication is the foundation of all our relationships, and learning an effective communication style (whether it’s verbal or written) may help a person to not only feel stronger in their recovery but to build better relationships and cope with stress in a healthy way.
  • Anger management skills – Drugs and alcohol abuse impairs a person’s self-control and makes them prone to anger. Teaching anger management skills may help a person learn how to avoid accidentally hurting a loved one or lashing out in negative ways.
  • Other coping skills – Managing stress, focusing on positiveness, looking for the good in others, and maintaining a healing attitude are a major goal in life skills lessons. These skills make a person stronger, more confident, and more apt to self-heal in their personal life.

As you can see, life skills therapy may help boost your socialization skills in vital ways. It will also help make you a stronger person, one who is fully capable of beating the alluring draw of addiction and drug use.

Connection With Prevention Programs

Life skills therapy has an interesting connection with prevention programs. A study published in the Oxford Journals entitled “The Role Of Life Skills Promotion In Substance Abuse Prevention: A Mediation Analysis” had this to say on the connection that seems to exist between the two treatment methods and how they can best be utilized:

“Research has shown that life skills programs are the most effective single activity in school-based substance abuse prevention… Based on a sample of 442 fifth graders participating in a quasi-experimental prevention study, as expected, mediation analyses revealed that increased knowledge about life skills paralleled an increase in students’ distant attitudes toward alcohol and nicotine use.”

While this study was focused on younger children, many of its lessons can be extended to adults. For example, when they finished the study, they discovered an interesting, and unexpected, result: “…behaviors manifesting enhanced life skills were found not only among program participants who remained experimental/non-smokers or stopped smoking but also among smokers.”

What does that mean? Life skills therapy can be adapted for multiple uses. For example, it could be used as a method of helping teenagers to ignore the draw of drug or alcohol use and to stay clean. Alternatively, it can be used to treat people who are already struggling with addiction. The connection seems to be that those who struggle with life skills may turn to drugs and alcohol as a way of coping.

Impact On Mental Health

Another aspect of life skills therapy that deserves to be touched upon is its potential impact on a person’s mental health. The lessons learned in life skills therapy are often very similar to those in cognitive behavioral therapy. Both treatment techniques focus on teaching a person positive behaviors to cope with addiction. The difference is that cognitive behavioral therapy is more corrective and focused on specific problems, while life skills therapy is more generalized.

That doesn’t mean that life skills therapy offers no mental health benefits. In fact, there’s a good chance that it might just help improve it. When a person is addicted, they might feel a variety of negative feelings about themselves. Of course, everybody has an intrinsic worth and value, but people who feel that way may have heavy depression that causes them to neglect their personal life skills.

Helping a person regain those lost life skills may help pull them out of the spiral of depression by making them feel more productive and confident. Self-confidence can also be increased by learning many of the more complex lessons mentioned above, in turn, helping a person regain control of their life.

Treatment Effectiveness

Although not a proven treatment method to combat addiction on its own, the activities in life skills therapy may have added benefits for someone working toward recovery when combined with traditional evidence-based practices.

In a study entitled “Effect Of Life Skills Therapy On Drug Abuse Preventive Behaviors Among University Students,” it was found that it could “either promote participant’s knowledge about drug abuse preventive behaviors or decrease risk factors leading to drug abuse as a significant post-test increase in the intervention group’s drug abuse preventive behaviors mean scores was observed.”

While this study was focused primarily on students, it can be expanded to address treating or preventing addiction in non-students. The conclusion also stated that “The findings of this study is in line with the other studies…which confirmed the positive impact of LST on promotion of the intervention group’s insight, drug abuse resistance skills, self-efficacy and decision-making balance in preventive activities.”

What was particularly interesting about this, was the way that they found life skills therapy broke down the abstract ideas that contributed to drug abuse and addiction. This included the belief that drug use was “fun and cool” or that it was “something everyone does.” These ideas often help fuel substance abuse, and breaking them down helps people understand the negative consequences of addiction.


National Center For Biotechnology Information - Nutritional Assessment Of Drug Addicts

Forbes - The Cost Of Addiction On Families

National Center For Biotechnology Information - Effect Of Life Skills therapy On Drug Abuse Preventive Behaviors Among University Students

Texas Christian University - Straight Ahead: Transition Skills For Recovery

UNICEF - Life Skills-Based Education For Drug Use Prevention therapy Manual

Psych Central- - Feeling Worthless And Depression -

National Institute On Drug Abuse - Lessons From Prevention Research

Oxford Journals - The Role Of Life Skills Promotion In Substance Abuse Prevention: A Mediation Analysis

National Alliance On Mental Illness - Psychotherapy

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