Updated November 23, 2022
Human beings are by nature, creatures of habit. Aristotle put it beautifully from a positive perspective “We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” This same concept can be applied alternatively to many of the difficult hardships that many of us face in the realm of alcohol and drug addiction. While the primary concern of every addict and alcoholic is certainly the disease itself, what spawns from it is a life based around a series of destructive habits that lead to pain and suffering that is beyond the comprehension of the majority of people.
In most drug treatment programs, the goal is to assist the addicted person in breaking these unhealthy and destructive habits to replace them with healthier ones that can lead to a more fulfilling life. It is highly important to have help in the transition between old destructive habits of drug and alcohol abuse and new healthy habits of sobriety. Without professional help during this transition, addicts are left susceptible to relapse, which often leads to feelings of overwhelm and deep frustration at the individual’s inability to let go of the negative habits. At FHE, our compassionate team of professionals seeks to help individuals achieve their sobriety goals by assisting them in the breaking of bad habits and formation of new healthy ones.
How Do Habits Play a Role in Addiction?
In our experience at FHE, we have had the opportunity to get to know and observe the ongoing behaviors of many active and sober alcohol and drug addicts. Underlying both of these addicted lifestyles always lies a foundation of habits. The addicted person typically engages in an ongoing cycle of:
- Thinking about getting high – Those struggling with alcohol and drug addiction tend to spend the vast majority of their time thinking about achieving their desired high. Addiction and alcoholism as a disease itself are comprised of two primary components – a physical allergy manifested by a mental obsession. This mental obsession plays out in the ongoing thoughts of getting high which surpasses other desires some might focus on like playing sports, going to school, or achieving professional success. These thoughts of using drugs and alcohol often overwhelm the recovering addict’s mind, unfortunately leading to relapse. These thoughts must be changed through intentional therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which seeks to identify negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts to encourage the individual towards sobriety.
- Acquiring funds for achieving the desired high – To satisfy the mental obsession of getting high, you need to have money to buy the substances to do so. This may mean working a full-time job, scheming, stealing, or a host of other activities to get the necessary funds. Aside from the obviously illegal and morally misguided activities like stealing and scheming, most others might utilize their hard-earned money to save for a vacation, apartment, or other special object, yet all of the addicted person’s efforts and monetary rewards for their work are solely for the purpose of sustaining their addiction. This habit is a bottomless pit that is never fully satisfied because the addiction never stops asking for more. As an addicted or alcoholic person develops a more significant and costly habit over time, the amount of effort that must be put into generating the necessary funds to sustain it becomes much greater. In some cases, we have seen patients who spend hundreds of dollars a day on their addictions – this goes before paying for rent, food, fuel, etc.
- Spending time with others in pursuit of the same high – The life of an alcohol or drug addict is one that tends to attract a very specific type of crowd – usually others that live the same way of life. As a result, those struggling with addiction tend to be surrounded by others with the same state of mind and influence one another heavily to continue down this destructive path. We are who we spend our time with, so as long as we stay surrounded by other active alcohol and drug addicts, we will find ourselves leading the same destructive lifestyle that causes us so much suffering. Allowing ourselves to continually spend time around such addicted peers is undoubtedly a bad habit that must be broken to achieve the freedom of sobriety. Although we know letting go of these relationships is never easy, we are here to help you every step of the way.
- Acquiring the drugs and alcohol to achieve the high – After working by whatever means necessary to acquire the money to get high, the alcohol or drug-addicted individual must now go out and find the substances they need to achieve this. Most often, the liquor store or drug dealer is readily available to service this need, however, sometimes stores are closed or an alternative dealer needs to be found if time is of the essence. The same stores tend to be attended, and the same dealers tend to be called upon – it’s a habit that must be broken. If you are tempted by the same liquor stores as you drive by them, you may need to find a new route to get to work or wherever it is you go that requires you to drive by these stores. You certainly need to delete your dealer’s number from your phone and get rid of all possible contact with them to break this habit.
- Getting high – Once the alcohol or drug addict has obtained the substances they need, they will try to get high. Depending on the drug of choice, there tend to be some type of ritualistic tendencies associated with getting high that certainly show the habitual nature of addiction. Someone smoking weed may run to the store to buy a cigar, play a certain type of music, and go through a certain process that is equally as important as the act of smoking itself. Heroin addicts tend to have similar experiences with preparing the drug for injection. In addition, many times the substance of choice is the foundation for engaging in a particular extracurricular activity. The addict often feels they must drink before going to work, smoke before eating, shoot up to watch a movie, etc. Deeply ingrained habits become the standard aspect of engaging in nearly all everyday activities.
Habits are the Foundation for Everything
It is no secret that habits are the foundation of all that we do in life. An athlete has established habits for their diet and physical training. A sales professional has established habits for prospecting business and the scripts they use to convert. Just as well, alcohol and drug addicts have established habits for achieving the desired high.
Conversely, recovered alcoholics and drug addicts have established habits for staying sober including attending meetings, engaging in physical activity, spiritual practices, etc. These habits are the very foundation for the lifestyle that is led – whether good or bad.
In drug treatment facilities around the country, much of the goal is to help replace the destructive habits of addiction with healthier habits for sobriety. This includes creating new goals to be achieved, developing meaningful friendships with supportive peers, or developing professional aspirations in work. As difficult as it may seem, it is possible to create new habits and this has been found to successfully transform the life of a sick and suffering individual into one that leads a life beyond their wildest dreams.
Much of the destructive habits those afflicted by alcohol and drug addiction face remain habits because they can’t get out of their way to realize there is another option. By showing these individuals the possibilities and slowly immersing them into habits that lead them on an alternative path, these individuals have been able to be helped to overcome many of the surface-level issues they face in life.
How Long Does It Take to Form a New Habit?
According to scientists who have studied habit formation, it takes about two months to form a new habit. Of course, one has to take a couple of factors into consideration. For instance, a person might develop an illness like a cold that prevents them from continuing certain activities. Also, a person’s preferences will play a role in the development of a new habit.
For instance, someone might choose to develop a fitness routine because their doctor instructs them to, but they may not enjoy fitness activities much. On the other hand, a person who loves physical activity might take to a new fitness habit more quickly. For someone recovering from addiction, it makes sense to try to form new, healthy habits that are closely aligned with their preferences.
What Are the 3 Rs of Habit Formation?
The 3 Rs of habit formation include reminder, routine, and reward. A reminder is the trigger a person uses to initiate their new behavior. For instance, they might set a reminder on their smartphone telling them that it’s time to take a meditation break or go for a walk. Since the habit has not been formed yet, the person may be inclined to forget this new behavior that they want to include as part of their routine. The reminder prevents them from forgetting what they intended to do.
The routine aspect of habit formation is the desired behavior. It’s the action that the person intends to take. For people recovering from addiction, a routine action might be a workout session, a nutritional snack break, walking the dog, yoga, meditation, journal writing, etc. The reward is the benefit that comes from acting. The benefit of meditation is improved stress relief, which is important for relapse prevention.
Repeatedly following the routine promotes the creation of a new, healthy habit. Unhealthy habits can be tough to break, but they’re tougher still until they can be replaced by new habits that support a healthy, sober lifestyle.
How Does Therapy Help Change Habits?
Before attending addiction treatment, people often wonder what happens during therapy sessions. They may have a notion that they will be “talking about problems,” which is true— that happens at times. But a good portion of therapy is devoted to helping people identify problematic thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, which are often tied to habits. For example, a habit associated with pessimistic thinking is more likely to be associated with feelings of sadness or fear, which can be triggers for drinking or drug use.
An unhealthy habit like stopping after work each day at the bar for a drink might alleviate unpleasant feelings of stress, but it can pave the road to addiction. During therapy, a therapist helps clients confront their unhealthy habits that are often founded on negative thoughts and feelings. By disrupting that negativity, clients can break bad habits and begin to form new habits that foster their recovery process.
During therapy, therapists will help clients learn how to maintain their new behaviors until they become habitual. Remember, it’s not enough to break a bad habit; to prevent another bad habit from taking its place, it’s essential to be mindful of creating a new, healthy habit that is conducive to sober living.
Replacing unhealthy habits with healthy ones sometimes requires the support of a professional. If you are struggling with a drug or alcohol problem, call FHE Health today to start breaking bad habits and building healthy ones.