Make a habit, break a habit. Are addictions treatable habits? Yes, but it’s just a little more complicated than that. If you’re wondering if you have a drinking problem, do you remember when you first started drinking, what it was you were really going for? Some of my clients report everyone else was doing it – these are usually teens. For many the drinking provides temporary relief from stress or anxiety, a way to shed the days worries. Or, just to relax and have fun socially. Over time, a habit forms and gets bigger because it creates a craving which can become an obsession. The habit of self-treating anxiety or stress with a few glasses of wine or a 6 pack of beer. That’s when people start to feel really out of control of the addictive habit.
Is it possible to shift drinking behaviors and other addictive habits by developing new routines which become new habits? Of course. AA members know the truth of this. Sceptical new members attend meetings where they see that seasoned members are staying sober because they’ve developed the “habit” of attending meetings rather than drinking. Group support becomes part of the new habit.
What’s the process to change a habit? Let’s say you have a slight drinking issue you’d like to adjust. You come home and drink a glass of wine each night with a meal and you’re not happy about the weight gain. How do you begin? First of all identify the “cue” or what’s driving the craving. For this wine drinking woman, the cue is stress relief. She comes home stressed, tired and a glass of wine relaxes her. The “routine” is getting the bottle out and pouring a glass of wine. The reward is the “relief” as the stress and anxiety melts away as she drinks her wine with her meal.
To change this habit she needs to look at other more positive ways to relieve stress and anxiety. New behaviors which turn into routines could be stopping at the gym and working out for an hour between work and home. Here the cue is the still the stress, but the routine is different and leads to the reward of relaxation AND weight loss. Practicing this change over 90 days will cement in the new habit. The reward of stress reduction with exercise and weight loss helps to keep the new habit in place. (For more: read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg)