How to break addiction habits

Can a new, healthy habit help you end a chemical addiction to a drug? More ideas about how new habits can replace old ones in addiction recovery.

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Addiction Replacement: Using Other Habits To Break Your Addictive Ones

Addiction is a difficult subject to tackle.

What is addiction, in the first place? In a loved one, especially in a child, it can cause feelings of intense guilt and responsibility. Then there are even stickier concepts, like relapse and triggers, and how much of that can be controlled by the addict, versus what is a natural consequence of their addiction.

Additionally, what role do alternate habits play in addiction recovery? How can we start to adapt new habits and get over cravings for a specific drug-of-choice…for good? We explore here. Then, we invite your questions or comments about habits at the end. In fact, we try to respond to all legitimate questions with a personal and prompt reply.

The Ever Growing Addiction Problem

When you begin to look at statistics dealing with addiction, it becomes even harder to stomach. According to a startling update to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number of Americans with addictions to drugs and alcohol could be as high as 23 million, but we know it doesn’t end there. With the specification of “drugs and alcohol”, it doesn’t cover other addictions which can be just as harmful to one’s life, such as gambling, or even sex.

There is also a phenomenon known as addiction replacement. Addicts who go down this road will take one problem and switch it with another. For example, someone who is addicted to alcohol may begin to smoke large amounts of marijuana. A former opiate addict could begin habitually overeating to deal with the stress of losing their former coping mechanism. A gambling addict could begin engaging in dangerous impulse buying that bankrupts them.

Usually, the argument for this replacement is that the new addiction is less harmful than the old one. In some cases this might be true, but that doesn’t make it a good course of action. The point of battling addiction is not to reduce its impact by giving it a new focus. It is to recover from that addiction entirely.

Healthy Habits, Not New Addictions

Instead, one alternative is to begin developing lifelong, healthy habits. It is harder work, but far more effective in both the long term.
In 2011, an interesting book was released on Kindle by a man named Mishka Shubaly. He had been battling alcoholism, and it had badly impacted his overall life and health. His solution? It wasn’t a rehab center, or a special medication. He began to run, starting at five miles, then gradually increasing it all the way to 50 miles.

You can find a similar story from the creator of the comic The Oatmeal, who talks about his constant fight against what he calls the “Blerch”. The Blerch is a character he created to represent his inherent tendency towards unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as drinking and eating.
Of course, it isn’t always that simple, and sometimes professional help is the only thing that is going to allow an addict to get past their problem. But it illustrates how one healthy habit can be a coping mechanism, and help lead away from addictive behaviors.

This is not a theory without its foundation in scientific study. Dr. Kelly McGonigal Ph.D found when working with addicts that something as simple as mindfulness could be the key to breaking beyond temptation. It could, in some cases, be a matter of willpower when it comes to beginning the recovery process. That is quite reassuring to anyone who has been impacted by this horrific disease.

5 Steps to Starting a New Habit to Beat Addiction

If you’re ready to begin a new habit and replace your addiction with something positive, there are five things you’ll need to do.

1. Simplify Your Goals. If you try to change your entire life in a day, you’re going to fail. Pick one goal and be willing to let others fall by the wayside for a bit. Focus first on what is most important and build on your goals as you gather more strength and resilience.

2. Make A Daily Change. Your goal for a healthy new habit has to be a change you make on a daily basis. This way it’s constantly occurring. If your goal is a weekly or monthly activity, then you’re likely to forget about it.

3. Set Reminders. Create reminders of your goal everywhere necessary. Write is on your fridge, your bathroom mirror, create an alert in your phone, tell a friend. Even the best goal setters forget from time to time to what goals they’re trying to focus on and WHY they were so motivated to do so in the first place.

4. Create A Trigger. This is some sort of ritual you perform right before you act out the new habit you’re trying to perform. If you’re trying to quit smoking, this could be something as simple as doing push ups or drinking a glass of water every time you fight the urge to smoke a cigarette.

5. Get Rid Of Temptation. Rid your life of anything that will tempt you to break your goal. Remove drugs or alcohol from the home if you’re trying to quit these substances. Do not go to places where you know they will be used. Avoid friends who use substances you’re trying to get away from if they’re unwilling to support your goals.

Breaking addictions, healing, forming healthy habits for a healthy and happy life is within your reach, no matter how far into addiction you or your loved one may have gone.

If you have questions that you’re struggling to find answers to, reach out to us! We’re happy to answer questions and point you in the right direction if you’re looking for resources, community, support, and healing.

About the author
Tyler is a freelance writer/journalist, with past experience as the head content writer and outreach coordinator for HelpYourTeenNow. His areas of focus include: parenting, education, social media, addiction, and issues facing teenagers today.


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  2. Hi, thank you for the great article. I have been struggling with video game and sugar addiction for years now. However, I am 2 years into college now, and i know i need to stop this absurdity, but haven’t been able to succeed in trying to stop myself. It is brought me down to a whole new level of depression and now im constantly thinking of suicide as I feel that I have lost all hope for having a reason to continue on since im in such a deep hole. I am so far behind my classmates and have no idea what I am interested in or what to do with my life, adding to my suicidal thoughts. I have a great girlfriend who I get to talk to and she has helped me to stay here, but I can’t tell her everything because I am so embarrassed by this weakness. I never use to be like this but now I have fallen and can’t get up it seems. I don’t know where to get help and everyone that i’ve tried to go to have let me down with no real help. I hope I can get help so I can get back into school and not fail the rest of my life.

    1. Hi Ethan. I suggest you talk with a doctor or a therapist. They may be able to help you by addressing any underlying issues and consequences and refer you to the right treatment options.

  3. I m 15 years old i addicted to masturbathing i try to quit it.But i masturabte after doing it i feel guilty and i m shamed in my eyes. Tell me something what i do

    1. Hi Chauhan. Many people are batlling this addiction, you are not alone. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. I suggest that you consider therapy sessions with a sex therapist.

    1. Hi Joe. I suggest that you call the helpline you see on the website to get in touch with a trusted treatment consultant who can help you find the best rehab for you.

  4. Great article!
    What if your trigger is pain? I have severe headaches and I get medicine for them. But at this point I’m affraid of the pain all the time so I take the medicine in advance. Unfortunately it is clusterheadache so there is no cure, for now.

  5. I found it very interesting how something as simple as a trigger can remind your body to fight the urge that you are trying to break, such as drinking water or doing push ups. I have been trying to get over an addiction of energy drinks for the past couple of weeks, so I really like the idea of drinking water every time the urge comes up. I will be sure to have lots of water handy, since my urge comes up more than I would like it to!

  6. I am addicted by YABS ( Amphetamine) but I don’t know how I leave the destructive drugs. I’m totally upset and asked myself why I took and taking the same. I have a two years aged daughter. I love her better than my life. But I cannot restrained myself to take the same. Can you help me? I lost my all property for bearing the abive mentioned drug’s cost.

    1. Hi Reza. Call the helpline you see on the website to get in touch with a trusted treatment consultant who can help you find the best rehab for you.

  7. I’ve been smoking cigarettes for upteen years. I don’t know how to quit without flipping out. Can you help?

  8. Thank you for this. It’s because of people like you who believe in us and are willing to help us that we are able to overcome these bad habits. Thanks a lot.

  9. I have a gambling addiction. I go one week and win, the next week lose that which I won and more. This has been going on for over 24 years. It started when I was in a bad marriage. One night we had a fight and I got in my car and went to the casino. For about 4-5 hours I did not have to deal with my own problems. I won that night and this is when it started. I have since divorced him yet I am still gambling off and on. My bills are behind. My income is good but I have borrowed so much money that I have to borrow from Peter to pay Paul. I have actually gone to the casino to try and double my bill money to pay my bills and lost. I have gone down and won with my bill money. I really want to get off this rollercoaster. I suffer from anti-depression and have ADHD. I do take medicine for these illnesses, but I want to control my own life and not allow the casino or any type of gambling control me. HELP PLEASE HELP

  10. Hi i am addicted in using grindr and other gay chat application and tend to do sexual interactions which is afterwards i regret it please help

  11. My brother is recovering from a drug addiction, and it’s been pretty challenging for him. He feels like it’s an impossible task and he’ll never be able to do it. I like how you suggest to simplify goals so that you don’t try to change your entire life in a day. I think that tip will really help him to have the positivity to continue forward. I’m sure it would also be really helpful if he could spend some time in a substance abuse recovery center.

  12. This is actually helpful.. I’m dealing with quite a lot of bad habits but I actually crave for a stop. I’ve tried many times but nothing.

    1. Hi Anthony. Call the helpline you see on the website to get in touch with a trusted treatment consultant who can help you find a rehab program that suits your needs.

  13. I have been battling with gambling addiction for sometime now.I bet on online games and casinos which wastes my hard earned money.I have tried several times to stop this addictions but it resurfaces after a break for sometime.I need help,what should I do?

  14. Hi
    I have been into smoking cigarettes and marijuana since 5 years. I quit the substance abuse for sometime and again I start doing them. I have been into treatments. I have went to hospital for detox 3-4 times. I get clean for few time and again I start. I don’t know why I start doing it. My life becomes perfect when I quit them know this still I continue it. Can u tell me the reason why I get into relapse again and again.. and can u help me overcoming it. What can I do to become sober again
    I would be a great help, if u reply me for my concern
    Thank you.

  15. This is a very helpful article. We have the same view regarding addiction and how to reframe it to something positive. The addiction is always there, that feeling is always there, that desire is always there. You just replace it with something that is more positive that you want to expand in your life.


  16. I’m badly addicted to cell phone. I need it it hand and scroll all the time. It’s affecting my productive time. I’m always with cell phone in hand. And my hand feel incomplete if I don’t see phone. ?

  17. Thank you so much for the great article. I’m suffering from porn and sexual sites addiction. I cannot stop it. And i feel so bad please help.
    Thank u.

  18. Hi, Thank you so much for the great article. I’m suffering from porn and masturbation addiction. I cannot stop it. I have tried multiple times in past to quit but I failed. It’s been almost 4-5 years. It is causing very bad effects on my daily life
    I have lost interest in day-to-day activities and I don’t like to go out anymore with friends. All day I just remain in my room. Can you please guide me? I would be a very big help. Thanks in advance.

  19. Hi There,
    So you mentioned not all addictions are drug related. I’m wondering if you could help me. I have an addiction to my hands. I’m constantly biting my nails or pulling my hair. My hands are almost always near my face and I can’t seem to control it. I don’t even realize I’m doing it sometimes. I want to stop because it’s self-destructive but I have no idea what to use as a trigger to keep my hands away from my face. I can’t seem to think of a positive affirmation that helps and I don’t know how to replace the habit with a healthy one. It has to be something I can do literally, Everywhere. Even while driving. Can you give me any advice?

    1. Hi Angela. Have you tried to keep your hand busy? You may try creating some crafts such as knitting, coloring, etc whenever you feel the urge to bite you nails. And, if these don’t help, you may consider seeing a therapist.

  20. i have realized the past mistakes and am in a path for a self change but smoking cigarates are bit tempting any alternative /

  21. Hi. I’m 27 0ld an indian. Fact is that I’m addicted to smoking now.. For ne some important exams are going on and I’m really late prepare too. Even preperarion gives me more stress and makes smokes more. When ever I try to quit I used to smoke more on that day. Even in not happy with this and I love to leave my habit without effecting ny Pl do give a suggestion like that I can concentrate over study+ I can go for quitting without getting disturbed because of quitting


  22. I feel it is so important to face destructive behavior as soo n as posiable that for sure signifiganily reduces the damage you fe doing to yourself and orhers I feel defeating addiction one day at a time is an effective method it has been working for me I believe in it please excuse my spelling.

  23. I’m trying to quit listening to loud music on my headphones.

    For quite a while now, my ears have begun hurting really bad after like 7 tracks.

    I gave my earphones to a friend and told them to not give it back to me even if I begged for it for 1 month. Is this a good strategy? I’m really afraid of causing significant damage to my hearing.

    I would really like to have some help with this. Any tips or a plan of action I should follow for this particular addiction?


  24. Hi thank u for reading this. Ive been eating paper since i was 6 that makes it 7 years and its really starting to effect my mom and other family members and i feel so bad please help.
    Thank u

  25. Hi thank you so much for this article, so accurate. I have been struggling fwith addicin for years and, have had hit rock bottom several times. done everything I said I would never do, was in every bad typical drug addict situation & scenerios. For the past 2 years almost I have changed my life drastically. I know longer am homeless, but I have been living in the same home for the last 2 years , by myself , I am in my mid twenties, healthy, I look so much better and am doing better, but I am really not completely better. It just appears that way I have just been switching one thing to another, I have gone from abusing opiates, to going to a daily dosing clinic, and am now really struggling with cocaine addiction. I am concerened because I know where this can go. But the crazy thing is late at night I meditate and become my true self with a calm and peaceful mind that’s so deep, but no matter how hard I try or plan , or try and do somethimg elce, it happened everynight , ove and over . I could really use some advice please

    1. Hi Emma. If you are looking for a treatment facility, call the helpline you see on the website to speak with a trusted treatment consultant. The number is free, confidential, and available any time of the day and the night.

  26. Stop the drug war with objective of shutting down the black market. The drug war has failed. The drug war is driving the problems, not fixing them. Decriminalization/legalization is necessary, it needs to be backed up with public health announcements explaining exactly why it is needed. Its not in any way condoning the abuse of addictors, it is done bc the alternative, the drug war, has made things infinitely worse on almost every level, to include making drugs abundantly available to any & all that wants them.
    We need to pull LE out of the drug biz – that will free up a lot of resources currently chasing their collective tails. When the laws create more harm and cause more damage than they prevent, its time to change the laws. The $1 TRILLION so-called war on drugs is a massive big government failure – on nearly every single level. Its way past time to put the cartels & black market drug dealers out of business. Mass incarceration has failed. We cant even keep drugs out of a contained & controlled environment like prison.
    We need the science of addiction causation to guide prevention, treatment, recovery & public policies. Otherwise, things will inexorably just continue to worsen & no progress will be made. Addiction causation research has continued to show that some people (suffering with addiction) have a “hypo-active endogenous opioid/reward system.” This is the (real) brain disease, making addiction a symptom, not a disease itself. One disease, one pathology. Policy must be made reflecting addiction(s) as the health issue that it is.
    The war on drugs is an apotheosis of the largest & longest war failure in history. It actually exposes our children to more harm & risk and does not protect them whatsoever. In all actuality, the war on drugs is nothing more than an international projection of a domestic psychosis. It is not the “great child protection act,” its actually the complete opposite. Let’s remember, opioids (drug) prohibition is a historical and cultural aberration, just 100 years old. We had fewer drug problems in my own grandparents’ time when opium, morphine, heroin, cocaine and cannabis could all still be bought legally over the counter. (Re)legalizing opioids would not be a “risky social experiment”, as some think. On the contrary, drugs prohibition was the reckless social experiment. And its a massive failure. Alcohol prohibition didn’t work, and opioid prohibition is failing even more miserably. The longer we’ve had drug prohibition laws in place, the worse have the social and health problems they cause gotten.
    The lesson is clear: Drug laws do not stop people from harming themselves, but they do cause addicts to commit crimes and harm others. We need a new approach that decriminalizes the disease. We must protect society from the collateral damage of addiction and stop waging war on ourselves. We need common sense harm reduction approaches desperately. MAT (medication assisted treatment) and HAT (heroin assisted treatment) must be available options. Of course, MJ should not be a sched drug at all.

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