Addiction has long been seen as a moral failing or weakness. Today, however, research shows that substance use is housed in the brain. Some people are genetically predisposed and thus more at risk of addiction. Others, after long-term use, rewire their brain to become dependent on drugs or alcohol.
Most treatment programs focus on ridding your body of these substances. But they don’t necessarily treat the underlying habits that have formed. As a result, some find themselves relapsing even after undergoing detox and addiction therapy.
If you’re worried about relapsing back into drug or alcohol use, then it’s time to retrain your brain. The same habit-forming that caused you to fall into a cycle of substance abuse could be the key to creating good habits in recovery and preventing relapse.
The Difference Between a Habit and an Addiction
Do I have a bad habit, or am I addicted? The difference is not always clear. After all, habits can be tough to break. Addictions are even more difficult to get rid of and they tend to have life-threatening consequences.
Habit is a behavior you form through frequently repeating the same action. After doing something over and over again, your brain becomes wired to do it automatically. Think brushing your teeth right after waking or visiting the coffee machine as soon as you arrive at work. Habits can usually be modified and controlled.
Addiction is the compulsive need to do a certain action or have a certain substance. Habits can lead to addiction, and not just to drugs or alcohol. If you form a habit of overindulging in food or betting on sports, this can lead to addictive behavior such as overeating or gambling. In general, addictions cannot be controlled unless you get professional help.
The Three Stages of Habit Formation
Most experts agree that habits are formed and maintained through a cyclical process of repetition called a habit loop. In general, this is a three-step process:
- Cue: The trigger or reminder that initiates the habitual behavior.
- Routine: The habitual behavior itself.
- Reward: The benefit or pleasure you gain from doing the behavior.
What makes habit formation dangerous is that eventually, your brain is able to disengage. This makes it easy for you to continue doing the habit without thinking it through.
At their worst, habits can lead to destructive addictions. At best, habits can boost your efficiency as you go about your day. For recovering addicts, forming new habits can help you avoid relapse during addiction recovery.
Tips on Identifying Personal Habits
To use the power of habit formation to help during recovery, the first step is to identify your personal habits. If your brain is hardwired after habitual use of drugs or alcohol, sometimes just identifying the cue, routine and reward can stimulate change right then and there.
If you’re not sure how to figure out your personal habits, here are some tips:
- Observe yourself and be honest.
- Write the habit down as soon as you recognize it.
- Jot down potential triggers.
- Ask others who know you well if they notice any habitual behaviors.
- After identifying your habit, ask yourself if the outcomes are good or bad.
Harnessing the Power of Healthy Habits in Recovery
If you can identify the habit loop that led you to form an addiction, you can direct your willpower to change. All it takes is recognizing the initial cue or trigger and substituting a new behavior or habit, which then leads to a new reward. It’s essential that the new habit reaps its own reward so that you’ll soon be craving the outcome produced by your new routine.
To create good habits after addiction and help fight relapse, follow these first steps:
- Identify the cues: What pushed you toward drug or alcohol use in the past? For example, many people drink as a response to stress.
- Seek alternative rewards: Find the rewards that will help you crave the new habitual behavior. In the past, you may have used alcohol to unwind after a stressful day. You now need to find a new behavior to relax in the evening.
- Make a game plan to change: Now that you know your cue or trigger, you can use that as a signal to perform your new habit. Instead of drinking in response to stress, give your sponsor a call and go for a walk, head to the gym or take a bubble bath. Anything to give yourself the desired reward of relaxing.
Contact Gateway Foundation When You Need Help
When you come to Gateway Foundation in Chicago, Illinois, our goal is to provide you with the coping skills you need to overcome addiction and avoid relapse. We provide personalized, evidence-based treatments to meet your specific needs.
Rewiring your brain is possible. Forming new habits will aid you throughout your recovery journey. To find out more, contact us online or call 877.379.9078 to speak to a compassionate member of our team.