Life Skills

At White House Recovery

Life skills are behavioral and interpersonal abilities that you use to interact with the world and people around you. Problem-solving, decision making, communication, empathy, assertiveness, and coping with stress or powerful emotions are each a type of life skill.

People who lack or lose certain abilities that would otherwise provide them with relief from challenging situations, thoughts, and feelings can sometimes turn to addiction as a means of compensating for that loss. By learning new ways to cope with things that cause you distress, you lower your odds of relapsing or returning to old behaviors and habits. A 2014 study that analyzed the relationship between life skills and substance use recovery in university students concluded that learning life skills was an effective preventative measure. 

Learning Life Skills

How Life Skills Relate to Recovery

Just like any skill, you need to practice life skills to retain them. This means that they may begin to change or degrade over time unless you actively work on them. Some people simply never learn them to begin with; growing up without role models or education for expected behaviors and socio-psychological coping mechanisms leaves plenty of people lacking these skills outright. 

Being unable to regulate your emotions or adequately express yourself is a high-risk factor in substance abuse and relapse. You need to learn life skills that keep your recovery moving forward. Throughout the process of rehabilitation and aftercare treatment, your therapist and group support leaders will work with you to help determine which knowledge you are missing and learn to incorporate healthy coping mechanisms into your sober life. 

The Ten Categories of Basic Life Skills 

Learning specific behaviors and thought patterns will help you attain crucial life skills. These skills and the means of developing them tend to fall under broad categories. These ten categories of life skills are what keeps society functional and communities working together. You can learn to incorporate each of these methods into the way you interpret and respond to the world around you. Each of the following categories includes a handful of associated ways of acting and thinking that you can learn in therapy.

  1. Self-awareness: Self-evaluation, positive thinking, and understanding how self-esteem and substance abuse are linked. 
  2. Empathy: Watching for non-verbal emotional cues, showing sensitivity to what others are going through, and understanding the feelings and needs of people around you. 
  3. Critical thinking: The ability to accurately interpret verbal and non-verbal cues and self-regulation.
  4. Creative thinking: Keeping your thoughts open-minded, looking at situations from various perspectives, and finding new ways to complete tasks. 
  5. Decision making: Evaluating risk, analyzing a situation and possible outcomes before acting, and anticipating logical consequences for actions. 
  6. Problem-solving: Coping with issues using analytical problem solving, evaluating healthier alternatives, and implementing problem-solving solutions. 
  7. Effective communication: Speaking openly and clearly, listening to what others say, being honest, and avoiding double-speak.
  8. Interpersonal relationships: Collaborating with coworkers and peers, communicating honestly and openly with loved ones, and learning to manage conflict.
  9. Coping with stress: Giving yourself a break when you need it, learning and practicing self-soothing techniques, and recognizing when to ask for help from your support system. 
  10. Coping with emotions: Healthily expressing yourself, using helpful techniques like journaling, and lowering instances of negative emotions through regular meditation.

Learning Life Skills in Therapy

A few of the life skills you can learn in therapy include time management, setting personal goals, and creating healthy relationships that can go on to become part of a support system that helps you stay on track in recovery. Your therapist will explain in detail why new abilities are essential to success and show you how to work them into your everyday routine. You will learn these new ways of thinking in both group and one-on-one therapy sessions, though the format may influence how they are taught. 

3 Life Skills You Can Use During Treatment 

While undergoing treatment at a facility, you will live in close proximity to a number of like-minded people and work with staff for hours each day to learn new and better ways to live healthily. Below are three valuable life skills you can use to lessen your stress levels while undergoing treatment and to ease the transition of returning home. 


  1. Time Management: Make daily and weekly schedules so you can stay on time for meetings and treatments.  
  2. Open and Honest Communication: If you experience a trigger or craving, speak with a staff member to talk through your feelings and find a healthier way to overcome those thoughts and compulsions. 
  3. Be Patient With Yourself: Practice self-awareness and patience by understanding that you are making a huge life change. It may take a while for you to see progress, and there is nothing wrong with that. 

We are here for you

Life skills are a vital part of long-term recovery because they help you find a way to deal with difficult emotions, stress, and interpersonal communication in a healthy way. Relapse prevention education includes learning new ways to think about potentially triggering situations. Most people learn basic life skills as children and young adults; however, missing those lessons can cause a deficit in social understanding, leading you to seek out unhealthy coping mechanisms to overcome the issues that life skills would usually solve. Critical thinking, effective communication, and self-awareness can form a solid foundation for your lifelong sobriety. We want to help you incorporate life skills into your everyday interactions so that you can live a happier, healthier life.