The Process of Learning New Habits


Breaking habits can be difficult. Breaking the habit of addiction can be even more challenging, especially when we approach addiction from a disease model rather than a series of poor choices leading to habits with unhealthy consequences.

Arguably, the result or symptom of that disease is the presence of an overwhelming desire followed by an impulse for our addiction of choice. This concludes with the acquisition and use of the addiction. This cycle then becomes a habit.

You’re Replaced

Often, just thinking about breaking an addiction fills us with dread. Not only does the task seem bigger than something we can manage, but the fear of losing the relief or pleasure we receive from the addiction convinces us not to try.

Even when facing the catalog of well-documented addiction consequences; financial losses, health issues, and in some cases, loss of relationships, we continue clinging to the threads of our addiction, afraid to let it go. However, what if we reframed our addiction as a habit that could be replaced with something else? What if we replaced addiction with something better for us? 

Cognitively Speaking

In terms of understanding addiction, the disease model is less harmful to addicts. It works on the removal of social stigma by seeking better social justice for addicted people. However, being told we have a disease can be something of a double-edged sword. Sure it’s great that addiction isn’t our fault, but we’ve just been told we have a disease.

Nevertheless, taking a cognitive approach to addiction treatment makes it possible to work on how we frame our impulses, decisions, and actions within the disease. In other words, how we think about our habits helps us control them.

By switching our focus, we get to choose and develop new habits. We cease viewing ourselves through the lens of a victim and see ourselves as survivors of addiction who get to choose our actions. In short, we decide to no longer be controlled by our addictive urges.


By thinking about addiction as a habit we can change, we can begin understanding our triggers. A large part of addiction therapy is understanding what triggers us. What about our environment trips us into using? Whether emotional or environmental in nature, triggers incite a relapse following detox.  

During therapy, you may be asked to reflect on your thoughts as you consume your addiction. What is taking place before the urge to use and the decision that follows? It is the consequence of these routines and urges that become habits and control our lives.

Under present COVID-19 conditions, you may work from home now. Before, when you worked in an office, you headed straight for the whiskey, when you came home from work, stressed and ticked off by your boss. That was your routine and the habit that you developed.

Now, you’re stuck at home, working. Your kids are fighting over middle school/high school Zoom schedules. You see a post on Facebook with the caption I am Vodka Dad/Mom. The meme triggers you and you find yourself grabbing the bottle at 10:30 AM. You’ve exchanged your old habit for an even worse one. 

What We Want to Change

We don’t want to create another addiction: day drinking instead of drinking after work. You also don’t want to replace alcohol with another addiction, such as working out for eight hours every day instead of working at home. Instead, we need to develop sustainable healthy habits we can maintain over time.

The importance of attending therapy during and after rehabilitation treatment as part of an aftercare program arises when thinking about replacing old habits. During these sessions, we begin to explore other aspects of our life, or previously forgotten areas of life, such as hobbies that we might like to rekindle.

By anticipating the potential triggers of an otherwise innocent and humorous post, we might resist the urge to take a social media break when stressed, tired, or under pressure. We can avoid the environmental and emotional trigger that creates an addictive urge and justification.

Instead of looking at other people’s posts about drinking during quarantine, we can read more positive things. We might think about reading a section from a self-help book on our reading app during our lunch break. By replacing one small habit with another, we can change key areas of our routine, replacing old habits with new ones.

Go Wide

Small, daily changes can be less daunting and more manageable when we approach them one small step at a time. However, the goal is not to think small, but with appropriate support, to broaden the approach.

After managing to control the triggers that create the emotional urge to consume alcohol, we might be feeling a little healthier and clear-headed. We may decide to begin working out or hiking on the weekend with family, enjoying the small uptick in our physical well-being. The point is that small, actionable changes can lead to more significant results.

Go Deep

Many addictions have underlying issues such as trauma, which can lead to anxiety or depression. These underlying causes need to be treated appropriately either through medication, counseling, or a combination of both.

Addiction is something that we should expect to continue managing for the long term, even following detox and intensive rehabilitation.

However, recognizing the small triggers that influence our addiction can help us change our habits and our routines around those triggers. Eventually, we can stretch a more extended arm toward our addiction and develop different behaviors that become rewired into the parts of our brain that register pleasure.

Talk About It

Therapy is important. It helps us frame our experiences in new ways. If we do not have an opportunity to speak about our experiences, we often don’t register our thought processes as problematic. Instead, we simply continue to react against them with unhealthy and harmful behaviors. Taking opportunities to speak with your support group peers and your counselor in one-on-one sessions can help you explore the right options and substitutes for you. 

A large part of addiction therapy is understanding what triggers us. What about our environments cause us to start using? Whether emotional or environmental in nature, triggers incite a relapse after detox treatment. During therapy, we may be asked to reflect on our thoughts as we consume our addiction. What is taking place before the urge to use and the decision that follows? It is the consequence of these routines and urges that becomes a habit, controlling our lives. Surrounded by the sublime landscape of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, the Detox Center of Colorado offers a solution-based transitional residence program aimed at accountability and recovery. Against a backdrop of clean, mountain air, your substance abuse or mental health recovery is supported by a range of treatment and aftercare options developed with your needs in mind. Call the Detox Center of Colorado at (303) 952-5035. 

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