At its core, addictive use of drugs and alcohol is essentially a habit. It is a habit that has physical as well as mental health components, but it is a habit that can be broken. Like any pattern of behavior that requires change, there are multiple components to addressing the habitual use of substances. By breaking it down into its many parts, people in recovery can then tackle the problem from multiple angles.
Here are five ways to help you break the habit of addiction once you have safely stopped taking drugs and alcohol in a medical detox program:
Does “giving up” sound counterintuitive? This tip is based on the idea of surrendering control over to a higher power that is often discussed in 12-Step meetings. Though taking responsibility for your actions is an important part of growing in recovery, one of the first ways to ground yourself in your new life, when you are unsure what decisions will take you closer to relapse and which ones will help you become stronger, is to let go of the idea that you can or should control every detail of your life.
In the beginning, when your senses of moral and emotional balance are out of tune, it can be helpful to find some substance abuse treatment professionals you trust and allow them to guide you. Are you unsure if living with a certain roommate or returning to your old home is a positive choice after treatment? Talk to your therapist about it. Are you having a hard time deciding if a prospective job is a good fit for your life? Discuss it with your counselor or case manager.
One caveat: Try to avoid counting on the decision-making abilities of others in recovery or family members, no matter how well-meaning. Your decisions must be made with the goals of recovery in mind, and the best person to help you in that endeavor is someone who is trained in that process.
Handle what is right in front of you.
It is easy to get bogged down trying to manage all the issues that cropped up during active addiction or to fret over all the things that may or may not happen as you work to build a new life for yourself in recovery. The good news is that you do not have to do either: You can let go of your worries about the past and you can take whatever is in front of you one thing at a time. Things will unfold as they should, and all you have to do is manage the task before you. If you struggle with putting things out of your mind, high levels of anxiety or stress, or have difficulties with prioritizing what should be done when, you can:
- Work with a life coach to create an actionable plan and a daily schedule that will help provide structure.
- Talk to a psychiatrist about medication if anxiety is so great that you struggle with panic attacks or insomnia.
- Practice yoga, meditation, and other holistic stress relief measures.
- Find something positive to focus on.
In essence, recovery is the practice of taking care of yourself. You have chosen to stop putting toxic substances into your body and instead to actively work toward creating a life of balance for yourself. That is huge, and you can make this process simpler by choosing to take care of yourself in lots of small ways, including:
- Eat healthy foods.
- Get a good night’s sleep every night.
- Exercise regularly.
- Get to the doctor and dentist for regular checkups and screenings.
When you drop one behavior, it is often a good idea to replace it with something positive and rewarding. Because addiction is so time-consuming, there is a great deal of time to fill in the day once in recovery, particularly in early recovery. You can fill the time previously spent drinking and getting high with small goals first and then move to increasingly larger goals. For example, you might first attend 12-Step meetings, look for a job, work out, cook, or go to coffee with a new friend in recovery. In time, you may decide that there are other things you want to accomplish (e.g., getting a degree, learning a new sport or hobby, etc.) and fill your day with the things you have to do to turn that goal into a reality.
Connect with others who are breaking the addiction habit too.
No matter what habit you are trying to break, when you regularly meet with people who are similarly working to change their lives, you will have a greater chance of success. Attending 12-Step meetings and other support groups, as well as keeping up with people you met during treatment, can help you to break the habit of addiction by:
- Ensuring that a focus on recovery is a regular part of your schedule
- Learning from the experiences of others who have traveled the same path
- Giving support to those who need it
- Getting support when you are struggling
- Having a forum to ask questions and share your concerns
How do you help yourself to break the habit of addiction? What things have you done – or not done – that have made it easier to substitute good habits for the old habits?