Addictions are extremely difficult to treat. Whether it’s an addiction to a substance (now more properly called a substance use disorder) or to activities like gambling or social media use, all these habits have the potential to seriously affect one’s quality of life.
By their very nature, addictions cause strong compulsive behavior that causes affected individuals to act against their self-interest. While it’s disputed how and why this happens, the consensus is that addictive substances and activities trigger the creation of defective brain connections.
These connections cause people to prioritize harmful certain activities, often against their self-interest. Ceasing the addictive activity usually brings about extreme discomfort, which further reinforces maladaptive behavior, continuing the cycle.
While all addictions can be successfully treated, defective brain connections can be extremely resilient and may even remain months or years after someone has finished detox and rehab. So long as these connections remain, the risk of relapse remains. In most Boston rehabilitation centers, education in relapse prevention techniques is covered extensively for this reason.
Thankfully, most treatment experts will agree that given time, anyone can beat their addictions. However, the trick is to get over the initial hump where withdrawal symptoms and cravings are at their worst. This is where developing structured, healthy habits comes in.
Though there are dozens of different, often contradicting addiction treatment models, the one thing virtually all of them agree on is the importance of developing positive habits. Below are just some of the healthy habits that may contribute to a full and sustainable recovery.
1.) Meditation and mindfulness
Decades of study now show meditation and mindfulness to be beneficial for an extremely wide range of psychiatric conditions, including addiction. These practices are even part of mainstream psychotherapy approaches used for treating people with substance use disorder.
The main benefit of meditation and mindfulness is the way they help improve emotional regulation. People with addictions often have impaired emotional regulation that manifests itself as anxiety, depression, aggression, and other extreme emotions. In some cases, the inability to control these emotions is what leads to substance misuse or maladaptive behavior.
Another potential benefit of these practices is in the way they help the brain grow fresh neural connections. This may help the brain bypass the connections formed by harmful habits, allowing it to make a full recovery.
2.) Doing volunteer work
A 2015 UK study found that people who had finished rehab for opioids were significantly less likely to relapse when they engaged in positive community and volunteer work. The study found that volunteer work was actually more effective than medication-assisted therapy at preventing relapse.
Why this is the case is not yet fully understood. However, it likely has to do with the feelings of positivity emotional fulfillment that come with these kinds of activities. This type of work may also give the person a sense of purpose that further strengthens their commitment to their recovery.
3.) Regular exercise
Regular exercise is almost universal in the country’s top residential rehab programs, for many good reasons. Moderate levels of exercise increases levels of endorphin and other hormones that produce feelings of well-being and a natural high. This natural high can help offset cravings a person might have for drugs or harmful activities, allowing for a more comfortable recovery.
Another good reason to exercise regularly is that it aids in regulating and improving sleep, issues that often plague people in recovery. According to an article from Johns Hopkins Medicine, the brain hormones released by exercise have a similar effect to sleep medication, helping bring about a faster onset and better quality sleep overall.
Lastly, the mood-lifting qualities of exercise are not just temporary. If a person sticks with it, they can achieve a healthier, more toned body. This can dramatically improve a recovering individual’s confidence and self-image, both of which may have been negatively affected by addiction.
4.) Keeping hydrated
Proper hydration is important at all stages of the addiction recovery process. While taking a sip of water may not immediately reduce most cravings, drinking enough water regularly can set the foundation for a quicker and more sustainable recovery.
If the individual has a substance use disorder, proper hydration can be critical during the initial detoxification and withdrawal process, as it allows the body to rid itself of traces of addictive substances faster. Hydration also promotes cell growth and regeneration, including in the brain, making it important regardless of the type of addiction.
5.) Practicing gratitude
Contrary to how we might feel, keeping an upbeat attitude is a choice, and one that can be a mentally healthy habit, at that. There has been a lot of recent attention on the role of gratitude in helping a person maintain positivity, which may set the foundations for other positive habits to take root.
According to an article in Greater Good Magazine, a Berkeley University publication, consciously practicing gratitude (i.e. actively recalling things you are grateful for) daily can create fresh connections in your brain that prime it for happiness. As one can imagine, happier people are less likely to turn to self-destructive habits, especially when they have already made progress in their recovery.
Even if you aren’t under any immediate mental distress, many therapists advocate writing regular journal entries for a number of reasons.
First, it helps us contextualize our experiences and emotions in ways most of us find difficult or impossible to do internally, helping us to prioritize problems as well as manage and reduce stress. Second, it helps us see how we’ve progressed, which is especially important for individuals recovering from addiction. Lastly, it can help reinforce other good habits by giving us an idea if we’ve been unwittingly slacking off.
To further drive home the benefits of journaling, multiple studies have found the practice effective at curbing relapses, not just of habits like gambling, but also habitual substance misuse.
Developing positive habits is a long-term process. Turning these activities into a habit that counteracts the long-term effects of addiction is something that will take commitment. However, all habits do get much easier with time. Once they’re set, they can help recovering individuals avoid relapses by helping them better regulate their emotions, conserve their mental energy, and live happier, more productive lives.
Please note that none of the habits above are a replacement for medication-assisted therapy and regular psychotherapy sessions with qualified mental health professionals. If you’re already getting started on these habits or are thinking of getting into them, it’s important to bring them up with your therapists so that they can offer additional input. Good luck, and be well!