Understanding Your Habits

Home / Sober Living Alumni Resources / Understanding Your Habits

Sometimes, toxic habits turn into addictions. Casual, social drinking may turn to drinking daily by yourself. Using substances to self-medicate can easily turn into an addiction. Using drugs floods the brain with dopamine and the brain will seek ways to find that flood again. That’s when a user seeks out the drug. Their brain is telling them they need more dopamine and a user falls into the habit of using to release that amount of dopamine to feel the high. The habit provides a physical or emotional function. This is how habits turn to addiction.

Our habits are driven by a three-staged sequence. First, is the cue, the stimulus that started the cycle. Then there’s the routine, the act of performing the habit. Finally, is the reward, the benefit associated with the behavior. Any habit follows this cycle, not just a drug habit. For example, if someone always eats chocolate when they have stress, then the brain associates the reward of dopamine with chocolate and you begin to seek chocolate more often and possibly in greater quantities. Thus, the brain will be compelled to eat more chocolate in times of stress.

Retrain the Brain

There are ways to retrain our brains to not be compelled to use, however. But it is not an immediate outcome. A person must take small steps at creating patterns. Consider that it takes about 66 days of the same behavior to create a habit. So, it may take 66 days to break that habit. A person definitely needs to identify their triggers in order to avoid them. Recognizing these cues will keep them from stopping their habit.

Keep a journal of your cues, learn what triggers which cravings. This is the best way to break the habit cycle. Replace old habits with new ones. If you have a habit of using because you are stressed, practice mindfulness instead. It’s as easy as doing breathing exercises or meditating. It’s understandable that meditation may be hard in the middle of a craving, but you don’t necessarily have to close your eyes and sit still to meditate.

If you take a walk through a park or go for a walk around your neighborhood, these can all be a meditation if you contemplate while you’re doing it. Ask what you really need at that moment. Do you need to destress, or do you need to use?

Self-Sooth With Self-Care

Self-care can also be a part of breaking habits. If you neglected yourself while using, practicing self-care could help avoid a trigger. Feeling the same way you did while using, whether mentally or physically may cue the habit. Instead of using, take a bubble bath or shower, start an exercise routine, or even giving yourself a manicure can help. Once again, ask yourself what you really need at that moment; comfort or substances?

Small Steps

You can take small steps in pursuit of breaking habits. For instance, with alcohol, it is not a good idea to quit cold turkey. Instead of drinking every day, cut it back to every other day. Continually cut back the days until you are no longer drinking.

Trying to cut back is a good time to try and find new hobbies. On the days that you are abstaining, find something else to do besides using. You can paint, write, exercise, or practice self-care. This is also a good time to begin resocializing with people who support you.

Try changing the reward. If you reward your cues with substances, find healthier rewards. You can do this with part of your diet. If a cue is triggered and you feel the urge to use, eat spicy or sour food. Your brain will eventually associate the cue with the unpleasant reward.

This will further help to break the cycle of your habits. Drinking beverages with carbonation is a way to retrain the brain if you’re abusing alcohol. Something like seltzer water will satisfy the craving without the effect of alcohol. This will help your brain get used to the decreased amounts of dopamine.

Your brain develops habits based on some mental or physical needs. If your brain becomes used to satisfying its needs by your use of drugs, it will always crave it. This is why it is important to create healthy habits. It’s as if you are weaning your brain off of the amounts of dopamine that drugs release.

Normal daily activities like eating, exercise, sleep, and sex release natural amounts of dopamine because these are essential habits we need to survive. Creating healthy eating habits, developing an exercise regimen will release natural amounts of dopamine and will help your brain reset itself to releasing those amounts.

It’s hard to break habits because of dopamine’s effect on the brain. Fifty percent of our daily actions are habitual. Different substances take longer to form habits than others. For example, exercising every morning takes more days on average to become habitual than drugs like heroin or cocaine.

This is because heroin or cocaine releases far more dopamine in the brain than something natural like drinking water. Don’t feel discouraged if you find yourself taking weeks or months to break your habits. Dedication is very important in this process.

Northstar Transitions understands the importance of healthy habits to help you recover from co-occurring disorders. You got this and Northstar can support you by teaching how to retrain your brain so you can live your best life. Call Northstar Transitions now at (303) 558-6400.