A Better Life in Recovery
The reason why people break away from their addiction is that they desire a better life. If the individual does not believe that things are going to significantly improve for them they will struggle to break away from alcohol and drugs. Giving up the addiction is a great and vital start, but it is usually not enough by itself to ensure a successful sobriety. This is because recovery is said to be a process and not an event. The individual will have more work to do in order to ensure that they establish the type of life that they have always yearned for. One thing that can get in the way of achieving this goal is bad habits.
Bad Habits Defined
Habits refer to routines of behavior that tend to occur subconsciously and that are repeated regularly. For example, a person may always choose the same seat on a bus they get every day because it has become a habit. This type of unconscious behavior can be good or bad. An example of a good habit would be brushing teeth before bed – this is something that most people do automatically and it benefits their life. A bad habit can be defined as a patterned behavior regarded as detrimental to one’s physical or mental health, which is often linked to a lack of self-control. Smoking cigarettes or eating too much junk food would be examples of bad habits. The individual may have a desire to break away from these behaviors but they just feel stuck because these activities have become ingrained.
Addiction and Bad Habits
While there are similarities between addiction and bad habits it would be far too simplistic to say that they are one and the same. This is because addiction involves both physical and psychological components. The individual feels that they need to use the addictive substance in order to cope, and if they stop using them they will experience physical and mental withdrawal symptoms – these can sometimes be even life threatening. It would be fair to say that alcohol and drug abuse are bad habits, but they do involve far more than this – in other words, the bad habit is just part of the problem. It usually only takes a few weeks to break a habit, but those who have been addicted to a substance can still occasionally get cravings even though they have been sober for decades.
Causes of Bad Habits in Recovery
There are a number of reasons for why people can fall into bad habits in recovery such as:
* The addictive personality means that people can be more susceptible to falling into this type of behavior. These character traits include; inability to deal with stress, impulsive behavior, and attraction to nonconformity and deviant behavior.
* Those people who become stuck in their recovery will begin to feel uncomfortable. They may try to overcome this discomfort by turning to bad habits.
* Just because the individual has given up alcohol or drugs does not mean that they have eradicated all their maladaptive behaviors such as bad habits. Staying sober is enough of a challenge and most people will wait until they are established in recovery before they begin working on other bad habits (e.g. smoking cigarettes) – the aim of recovery is progress and not perfection right away.
* Some people are prepared to settle for a less than ideal life in recovery. They feel that by giving up alcohol or drugs they have already done enough.
* People just tend to fall into bad habits if they are not observant. For example, the individual may only really notice that they have been eating too much junk food after they’ve put on a significant amount of extra weight.
* Those individuals who have fallen into addiction can hold onto a mistaken belief that if some is good then more is better. This tendency to overdo things leaves them wide open for developing bad habits.
Bad Habits and the Addictive Personality
The addictive personality refers to a set of attributes that addicts will tend to share. This is not to say that all people who have fallen into addiction will share all of these character traits, but most will share at least some of them. The characteristics associated with this type of personality include:
* Antisocial tendencies
* They often have a high tolerance for what would be considered bad behavior (deviance) by other people.
* They tend to act in an impulsive manner.
* Self esteem issues
* Symptoms of depression or anxiety
* The individual will subjectively believe that they have a high degree of stress in their life.
* They tend to have a rebellious nature – they admire nonconformity and counterculture.
* Feelings of alienation from other people.
* Struggle to delay gratification.
* Prone to attention seeking behavior
* Highly insecure in relationships – they may turn to bad habits in order to deal with this insecurity.
When people first become sober they will often still have most of these character traits. It takes time to overcome these negative personality flaws. Until the individual does manage to overcome them they will be at high risk of developing bad habits.
Bad Habits as Maladaptive Behavior
A maladaptive behavior can be defined as a type of behavior that inhibit a person’s ability to adjust to a particular situation. The reason why people choose these behaviors is because they have become stuck in recovery and these bad habits appear to offer an escape. These maladaptive behaviors can initially make things feel easier, but it is just a means to avoid dealing with life and that always leads to more pain in the end. Examples of maladaptive behaviors would including things like workaholism, exercise addiction, and comfort eating.
Dangers of Bad Habits in Recovery
Bad habits are dangerous for people in recovery for a number of reasons including:
* These patterns of behavior tend to have a negative impact on the individual’s life. The person could use this as a justification to relapse back to addiction.
* It is a shame for people to break away from addiction only for them to have their life blighted by new bad habits.
* These maladaptive behaviors can act as stepping stones back to addiction.
* Such habits can have a negative impact on the person’s mental and physical health.
* It can prevent the individual from making progress in their sobriety – this means that they will be settling for less than what is possible for them.
How to Overcome Bad Habits in Recovery
In order to overcome bad habits in recovery it is suggested that people:
* Work to overcome the characteristics of the addictive personality that may be making it easy for them to fall into bad habits.
* The individual needs to get rid of the idea that if some is good then more is better. Moderation in all things is usually the best advice.
* It is not necessary for people to give up all their bad habits in one go – this advice is particularly pertinent to those who are in early recovery. The best advice is to tap away at these behaviors one at a time.
* Feeling guilty about bad habits does not real solve the problem and can be a sign of low self esteem. Instead the individual is best putting their attention on fixing the problem rather than making themselves feel bad about it.
* Some people struggle with the idea of giving things up because it sounds so negative. This is why it can be more effective to think of these changes as taking on something new.
* Techniques such as mindfulness meditation can be good for helping people come to grips with bad habits and overcoming them.
* Writing down the reason and benefits of giving up a bad habit can have a powerful effect.
* Some people find that using affirmations is another good technique that can help them overcome bad habits. This involves making positive statements in order to increase motivation to achieve the goal in question.
* When people are initially giving up a habit is a good idea to use distraction to keep their mind off what it is they are trying to give up. Distraction could involve going for a walk or even watching a fun movie on TV.
* It can be helpful to tell other people about the decision to break a habit. These individuals will then be able to offer encouragement and the act of making the decision public can increase motivation.
* An effective technique is to replace bad habits with good habits. For example, the person who wants to give up junk food could replace this with healthy snacks that they enjoy.
* If giving up the habit means that the individual is going to save money they should us this saved money to buy something special later on. For example, those who give up smoking cigarettes may be able to afford to go on a nice foreign holiday because of the money they’ve saved by not smoking for a year – this is a great incentive.
* If people develop effective ways of coping with stress in life there will be less need to fall back on bad habits.