Overcoming addiction is a challenging journey that’s more than worth taking. If you’re wondering how to overcome addiction, you’re in the right place.
First, let me reassure you that while trying a drug might be a choice, addiction isn’t. It’s a chronic disease, whether well-meaning family and friends believe it or not. Just like you can’t tell a diabetic to just stop having unregulated blood sugar, you can’t tell an addict to just stop taking substances.
When you have an addiction, your brain develops a compulsive need for its vice and could cause deadly consequences without it. Most addicts don’t desperately drug seek for fun. They’re body and mind are in crisis. Hearing that might make you think that recovery sounds horrible and no one should do it–but don’t click away. When you take the right steps, you can overcome your addiction in a safe and effective way.
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Understanding Your Addiction
The more you understand what’s happening in your body, the more steps you can take to manage it. When you first use a substance, it causes your brain to shoot out feel-good hormones. Those hormones generally disguise the damaging effects of using. The more you use a substance, the more your brain relies on it to get you through the day. The worse your addiction gets, the higher doses you need to seek out to avoid withdrawal.
When it goes without the drug it’s relied on, your brain will start to short-circuit, which can cause extreme emotional reactions, seizures and even death. That’s why it’s so important to go through the process in a skilled treated facility that can manage your symptoms.
If it seems like you easily became addicted to a substance, you’re not alone. Some members of the population are more susceptible to dependence than others. It’s not a sign of weakness. Like any disease, there are risk factors that can increase your chance of addiction.
Your genes determine how tall you’ll get, your hair and skin colors, how creative or analytical you are and how easily your body can manage certain conditions. Some people are at a higher risk for obesity, others have genes that increase their cancer risk. Research shows that genes account for half of your drug and alcohol addiction risk. That risk comes from various factors, including the following.
None of these things alone are the reason you do or don’t develop an addiction. However, they can help you understand why you may have one.
There is a genetic component to self-regulation, which plays a role in your addiction susceptibility. Some minds are wired to control impulses better than others. According to scientists at Rutgers University, this wiring is at the core of many addictions.
A more pinpointed genetic reason for addiction comes down to one pesky gene. Everyone has the sci-fi sounding DRD2 gene. It’s responsible for regulating the amount of dopamine in your system. Some people have the A1 allele or version or the gene. Scientists found that it is more common in people who have addictions to opioids, alcohol and cocaine.
People who are around others with addictions are more likely to start using themselves. Peer pressure is just as real for adults as it is for kids. When you’re in an environment with people who use substances, the more likely it is you’ll want to take a hit with them. For some, one exposure to a substance is all it takes for an addiction to kick in.
The home you grew up in also matters. If you lived with adults who modeled drug and alcohol use, you might see addiction as a normal part of life. If the people in your life were impulsive or took a lot of risks, they might not have taught you how to think through your decisions or set physical and moral boundaries.
There is a strong correlation between socioeconomic status and addiction. A vast majority of substance use disorders are low-income or unemployed. Addictions can stem from the stress of an unstable financial situation. It becomes a form of dangerous self-medication in order to break their minds out of a fight, flight or freeze scenario and take action.
However, being on drugs is counterintuitive to getting and keeping a job. Many employers require screenings before hiring a new employee. If a substance doesn’t show up then, the side-effects of addiction can cause poor work performance, leading the person back to financial instability.
Mental Health and Addiction
Mental trauma also makes you more susceptible to addiction. If you experienced physical, emotion or sexual abuse, you’re more likely to turn to substances as a coping mechanism. Addiction is a comorbidity with many mental health conditions, including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder (BPD) and major depressive disorder (MDD).
Stress by itself can trigger an addiction. It doesn’t have to be from a traumatic experience. Work stress or a packed schedule. The mental strain can make it easy to turn to a substance that can help you relax or focus. However, what may seem like a good idea for a temporary solution could turn into a lifetime problem.
An overlooked addiction trigger is loneliness, whether you’re a child or an adult. A person who lacks social support from family, friends and mentors could try to fill the void with a substance. Essentially, drugs or alcohol become their toxic friend.
Breaking Free From Stigma
Many people unfortunately hesitate to seek treatment before it’s too late. There are now more than 100,000 deaths from overdoses in the United States each year. You don’t want to end up another tick in that statistic. Often, it’s a stigma that prevents people from getting the help they need but you can break free from it.
It can be hard to deal with the unfair judgment of family, friends, colleagues or even medical professionals. The good news is that people in recovery often find a little embarrassment or a few lost relationships more than worth saving their life.
Instead of focusing on what might happen, consider what will happen if you succeed. You’ll no longer feel dependent on a substance, you’ll regain control of your health and your actions. You’ll have a good chance at a long, thriving life.
6 Steps to Overcoming Addiction
There’s no genie that can grant your wish to be sober. Here are six steps to take for a safe and successful recovery.
- Practice Meditation
A guided meditation practice can help you manage your thoughts during recovery. You’ll practice noticing them float away instead of ruminating on them. You can use the Declutter The Mind app to practice meditating for better mental health and to control your emotions. You can try a meditation for cravings and addiction below to help you manage your thoughts during recovery. There are even more meditations within the app.
- Get Professional Help
The first step in conquering your addiction is to find a therapist who knows the science behind safely getting you off of the substance. Rehabilitation programs aren’t always portrayed well in fiction but there are many out there that can give you the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual guidance you need for success. The right team can provide a holistic approach to your case to provide individualized care for your mind and body.
There are several treatment options for you to choose from.
If you’re in an emergent situation, inpatient treatment can be a life-saving experience. They’re often run by hospitals or other medical facilities. They can help you safely detox and start you on the road to recovery. It’s an intense experience but is often the best step in severe cases.
This is the type of place John Mulaney talks about going to in his latest special. You don’t have to have an intervention to stay in a residential treatment center. You can skip the crying and speeches by choosing to seek help before them. Rehab is essentially a hotel for people to get sober. You could be there a month or a year and are given many forms of treatment to give you the best chance at avoiding relapse.
There’s often a team of professionals dedicated to helping you and others get well. You’ll get mental health treatment from trained psychiatrists and therapists, attend group and individual therapies, engage in self-care, identify your triggers and develop coping mechanisms. There are often different phases you’ll pass through on your way to life in recovery.
Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)
You can get treatment from a medical facility while still going home every night. Essentially, recovery becomes your job in a PHP program. You’ll attend four to eight hours of treatment every day in the hospital but get to go home at night to spend time with family.
Some people prefer this to residential treatment since they can stay with loved ones. However, others find outside triggers too intense to be around.
Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)
This is a slightly more flexible option for achieving recovery. IOP programs have you attend treatment sessions at a clinic for around 10-20 hours each week. You continue to live at home and can often hold a job or attend classes. It’s a great step for people who feel relatively stable and want to continue working towards their career and spending time with family.
An outpatient treatment program is a low-intensity form of therapy great for people who are at the beginning of their addictions. It’s an early intervention that can keep you from going down the dangerous paths that require greater intervention.
Patients attend nine or less hours at a facility while living at home and going to work, school and other events. They often offer weekend or evening services, so you can still do what you need to during the day.
You can talk with your doctor or counselor about which treatment program is right for you.
- Join a Peer-Based Recovery Group
There is no cure for addiction. Your mind can recover but your brain will remember the addiction and can easily return to that state through exposure. Attending a recovery support group can introduce you to people who know what you’re going through and made it to the other side.
Think of them as secret clubs. Some are religious but not all. Choose which one suits your addiction and style. It’s alright to try different ones and see where you best fit. You’ll continue to learn and practice coping with your triggers, support one another through finding and maintaining a new normal and can make lifelong friends who understand you.
Peer based groups include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), SMART Recovery, LifeRing, Secular Organizations for Sobriety, Women for Sobriety and Celebrate Recovery.
- Avoid Your Triggers
There are going to be some situations that send your brain into wanting relapse. Avoiding these situations is key to long-term success. It’s best to avoid the people who still are on the substance, you dealers, any public places where you used to use and putting yourself in unnecessary stressful situations.
Some people are able to return to the same town and home they had before entering treatment. Others prefer a completely fresh start in a new location. It often depends on your connections to sober family, friends and colleagues at home or in a different place. Whatever helps you continue in your recovery is right for you.
- Build Your Village
Speaking with family and friends, you need a support system. While personal accountability is essential in recovery, avoiding relapse is a hard road to take alone. Finding the people who support your journey can help you find new joy and guide you through times where your triggers are almost too much to take.
Consider yourself the village leader and your support system, the people who will keep your land thriving. No trespassers allowed! Your peer-based group can be one house, supportive family members can have another and your sober friends can have another. You don’t have to cut off people you love who want to enter recovery as well. Place them on the opposite end of your village. You can support them on their journey but your recovery has to come first.
- Adopt Healthy Habits
When you have an addiction, using it is often the first thing on your mind. It’s easy to neglect the things you need to stay physically and mentally healthy. Now that you’re in recovery, you can develop good habits to help you feel good inside and out.
Try to eat healthy meals, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Mindful eating will give your body the nourishment it needs to fuel you as your body adjusts to life without the substance. Drink hydrating beverages like water or juice. Talk with your doctor about which foods are best for your individual dietary needs.
Now’s an excellent time to come up with a self-care routine. Indulge in a bubble bath, go for walks in the fresh air, start a new book series or pick up a new hobby. You can replace the time you used to use with things that cater to your mind and body.
You can’t avoid all stress. It’s part of life but you can find new ways to cope with it. Your exercise of choice, learning to meditate, journaling and other practices can help you calm your body and release negative thoughts.
- Listen to music
While music will not cure you of your addiction, it can be therapeutic to listen to while recovering. If you don’t know anyone else suffering from addiction, it can help you listen to relatable voices about the struggle of dealing with it and triumph of overcoming it. You can check out our blog post on songs about addiction.
- Celebrate Your Recovery
Beating addiction is no joke. You’re rewiring your brain and facing your illness head-on. Achieving that is worthy of celebration. Never forget to celebrate your sobriety, whether it’s been a day or a decade. Tell people about your journey so they can offer support and congratulations.
There’s a reason why programs give out chips or other tokens. It’s positive reinforcement for your brain that you did the right thing which can make your triggers a little less daunting.
You can overcome your addiction with the right resources and support. Don’t let a substance cut your life short. If you need help getting started, you can contact the national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP. You can also download the Declutter The Mind meditation app to help you cope with your thoughts during recovery.
Beth is the mental health editor at Body+Mind. She has 5+ years of experience writing about behavioral health, specifically mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Beth also writes about the power of human design to reveal our potential. You can find her on Twitter @bodymindmag. Subscribe to Body+Mind for more posts by Beth Rush.