Everyone has some bad habits. When you’re in recovery, some of those habits will work against you. Maybe you still smoke, or you don’t get enough sleep, or you spend too much time on Facebook, or you still spend time with people who drink. The habits you formed in addiction have a tendency to pull you back. While the most important thing is always to stay sober no matter what, breaking a few bad habits will make that much easier. Here’s how it’s done.
Identify the most important habit to break.
Your bad habit of biting your fingernails is not nearly as bad as your habit of stopping at the pub on the way home. Some habits are much more closely connected to addiction. Identify the habits that are most likely to get you into trouble. Some candidates might include spending time with people who still use, going to places strongly connected to your addiction, smoking, not getting enough sleep. You may have some specific habits that trigger cravings. Whatever it is, put in on the list.
Attack one habit at a time.
Breaking several habits at once is just too hard. You have to juggle. You feel overwhelmed. You already have a lot to deal with staying sober so identify the one habit that’s doing the most to make your recovery difficult and focus on that. Once you have it under control, go on to the next one. It might take several months, so don’t be in too much of a hurry.
Especially look for triggers. Just as there are addiction triggers, there are habit triggers. You may automatically do something at a regular time or, more likely, in a regular sequence. For example, maybe you start your car, then light a cigarette. It might be more situational, like eating muffins whenever you feel stressed. Write down anything you notice about your habit–when it happens, what’s going on, what you were thinking about, and what you felt. See what the common patterns are.
Find a replacement habit.
Once you understand your pattern, figure out a better habit to replace the old one. Maybe you can chew gum after you start your car, or exercise when you feel stressed. The key is to figure out what that habit does for you and try to meet that need in a healthier way. The more similar the replacement habit is, the easier it will be to make the switch.
Keep track of your progress.
You can do this in several ways. One is to keep a calendar of successes. Every time you go a day without smoking, or eating a pastry, or whatever, put an ‘x’ on the calendar. The more there are, the less you will want to break your streak. You can also just write down every day how well you did. This takes longer but allows for more analysis. Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up when you stumble. Habits are hard to break, but if you are persistent, you can do it.
Castle Craig is one of the most established and respected addiction rehab centres in the UK. Castle Craig provides consulting psychiatrists who diagnose associated mental illnesses like anxiety states, depression, ADD, PTSD, eating disorders, compulsive gambling, and compulsive relationships. For information, call our 24 hour free confidential phone-line: 0808 256 3732. From outside the UK please call: +44 1721 788 006 (normal charges apply).
Page last reviewed and medically fact-checked | January 29, 2020