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Addiction and Changing your Ways

Addiction and Changing your Ways

It is human nature to instinctually develop habits, whether healthy or not

Many times the role and the draw of habits for a person in recovery is underestimated. Often the individual operates under an assumption that maintaining a clean lifestyle once the power of a physical addiction is broken will be easy, but this is not necessarily true. It is human nature to instinctually develop habits, whether healthy or not, and subconsciously fall back into them, particularly in times of stress.

This propensity for habits may sound like an excuse for a relapse, but there is hard science to support the existence of a habit loop,[1] in which the brain moves from a conscious choice and focused effort over time to a nearly automatic response. These studies have nothing to do with addiction, and are applicable across a broad number of experiences.

It is this ability to develop habits that allows a person to become more comfortable over time while driving a vehicle. Instead of remaining that nervous teenager who feels overwhelmed by having to press the gas, check the mirrors, and remember to shift, a seasoned driver is able to perform all these tasks without giving it much thought. Indeed, without the brain’s ability to form habits, each driving experience would be just like the first time behind the wheel.

Failure is a Moment not an Ending

Perhaps the biggest hurdle to a successful approach to recovery from addiction is the presumption that this will be a trouble-free process. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many individuals relapse in the midst of a recovery process. Sometimes it is the result of unexpected personal or family trauma, other times a trigger causes an old habit to flare up, and there are moments where it seems that nothing caused the relapse; it just happened.

The relapse is not the important moment though – what you choose to do after the relapse is what matters. Those that are successful in rehabilitating themselves away from addiction understand that a failure is not a defining moment at all, but those hours and days after the relapse are. Even when you have fallen back, you can get up again. Each time to do, that failure becomes nothing more than a moment, a blip on the radar toward a sober lifestyle.

Seek Out Accountability

As you continue to walk the path of recovery, you will find that having others to lean on during weak moments will become invaluable. If you have not already done so, identifying a small group of people you can trust in this context may end up being the difference between a momentary relapse and a long term fall back into addiction.

These individuals should share a few characteristics:

  • You inherently trust them, no matter what the specific circumstances.
  • They will think the best of you, instead of assuming the worst.
  • You will listen to and seriously consider any advice they give you.
  • They are comfortable holding your confidence, rather than blabbing your every conversation to anyone who will listen.
  • They truly want you to succeed in living a sober life.

Learn your Triggers and Avoid Them

Nearly every person who battles an addiction has one or more triggers. A trigger is simply defined as a place, a set of circumstances, a person or anything else that stirs in you an insatiable desire to return to an addiction.

For some, even walking by a particular bar will make it incredibly difficult to not walk in and order a drink. If this is your scenario, avoid the street the bar is on. At first, this will have to be a very conscious effort, and will feel fake to you as a new habit develops. There is a danger that, in the process of actively avoiding a trigger, you might find yourself instead going out of your way to pursue the trigger, since you were thinking of it in the first place. Over time this desire will lessen, as you allow your brain the needed space to develop new habits.

Consider Professional Help

Many people view rehab or counseling for an addiction as a sign of failure, but this is simply not the truth. Rather than failure, seeking professional help underlines an unmoving stance, a desire to become clean no matter what. And for the record, there is no shame in seeking out support from trained professionals to overcome an addiction, any more than using a personal trainer to get back in shape is a sign of weakness.

If you find yourself at the end of your ability to battle your addiction in your own strength, there is support available. We can help you. We can answer your questions. The admission counselors at our toll free, 24 hour helpline can help you learn more about your mental health condition. They can help you find your way.


[1], “Habits: How They Form and How to Break Them,” by Charles Duhigg, accessed December 6, 2015.