How to Replace a Harmful Addiction With Healthy New Habits

How to Replace a Harmful Addiction With a Healthy One

Have you decided to start the new year by committing to overcome a harmful addiction?

One of the greatest challenges faced by those in recovery is dealing with the feelings of deprivation. Suddenly, there are things you must say no to — and a lot of them. It can feel unfair to lead what seems like a restricted existence as an independent adult. However, recovery isn’t about just saying no to your drug of choice. It’s also about saying yes to new experiences and opportunities.

Instead of obsessing over your “losses” (which aren’t actually losses at all, as any recovering addict knows), focus on what you hope to gain. You’re both the blank canvas and the artist, and you’re the one who gets to decide what your next masterpiece will be. It’s an effort worth a lot of consideration and one that requires the courage to “be a yes” and the willingness to explore new territory with a fresh perspective. Here are three strategies to help you replace a harmful addition with healthy new habits.

1. Recognize Triggers

The greatest obstacle for your future is your past. In order to enjoy a successful recovery, you need to honestly — and critically — evaluate your triggers. According to Dr. Riana Chagoury of Prominence Treatment Center, “The most obvious examples are the people, places, and things associated with past using experiences. There is, however, a more insidious category of triggers — emotional states. Addicts teach their brain that the appropriate response to most feeling states, positive or negative, is to use, which can make navigating the normal emotional ups and down of the day a challenge to sobriety.”

It’s one thing to avoid people, places, and things, and quite another to manage feelings. That’s why it’s important to recognize the emotions associated with your urge to use and to replace that urge with something else entirely. Once you sense that you’re vulnerable to relapse, turn to a new coping mechanism or routine in an attempt to disrupt that cycle of abuse. Eventually your cravings will be for your healthy new habit or hobby.

2. Establish New Routines

The mind abhors a vacuum, which is one of the reasons recovery depends on replacing old, addictive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with new, recovery-based ones. “Early recovery is marked by the need to establish a chemical-free lifestyle,” states SAMHSA’s Counselor’s Manual for Relapse Prevention with Chemically Dependent Criminal Offenders. “The recovering person must learn about the addiction and recovery process. He or she must separate from friends who use and build relationships that support long-term recovery… They also need to learn how to develop recovery-based values, thinking, feelings, and behaviors to replace the ones formed in addiction.”

Even starting with simple things like a new morning routine could help. Dr. Chagoury teaches clients to develop a morning spiritual sobriety practice. It begins with reciting the “Serenity Prayer” as soon they wake up, followed by showering, brushing teeth, performing personal hygiene tasks, making the bed, and dressing in clean, well-maintained clothing.

Other therapeutic activities include reciting a daily positive affirmation (i.e., “I am sober today”), writing down 10 things for which they feel grateful, reading a positive thought each day, and engaging in a 10-minute guided mindful meditation. Meditation is a particularly valuable tool. Researchers affiliated with Harvard discovered that demonstrable changes in the brain’s gray matter were observed after as little as eight weeks of regular meditation, with growth in regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress management.

3. Seek Out New and Enjoyable Ways to Spend Your Time

“People with the most success in staying sober tend to get involved in a range of pleasurable activities and do them frequently,” says UCLA’s Suzette Glasner-Edwards, author of “The Addiction Recovery Skills Workbook.” She adds, “These activities can replace the time and energy that they had been spending on addictive behaviors, enabling them to experience pleasure without the devastating consequences of alcohol or drug use.”

While brainstorming about your new self, think of hobbies you might have interest in and try them out — exerciseyoga, art, nature, philanthropy, and music are among the many beneficial options available. Learning new skills is good for your brain and self-confidence, and it can become a valuable tool in your journey to sobriety. It’s also the perfect way to meet new friends with similar interests.

The trick to recovery is simple — you just have to change everything. That actually doesn’t sound easy at all, does it? Well, no one said it was easy, just simple. The key to leaving behind bad habits of the past lies in creating healthy new routines that focus on the lifestyle you plan on living; this includes new friends, new places to hang out, new recreational pursuits, and essentially, the creation of a new you. Instead of being overwhelmed, think of it as an invitation to shed your old skin — an opportunity for true growth — and get to work on rebuilding a new and improved version of yourself by replacing the bad in your old life with some much-needed good.


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Ashley-McCannAshley McCann is a reluctant yogi, slightly chaotic creative, and a 200-hour certified yoga teacher who has mastered the art of Savasana. She spends her days barefoot on the beaches of South Florida and writes on mindfulness and wellness topics, from holistic healing to the challenges of balancing modern-day family life.