Having an addiction – whether it’s to alcohol, drugs, sex, video games, eating, not eating, emotions, etc.- ignites the neural pathways associated with pleasure. Each time that pathway is ignited, it’s as if pleasurable neurotransmitters and hormones are having a party in your brain and body. Over time, these pathways become consolidated, making them prone to resisting change.
Hacks To Changing Behaviours
Although changing behaviour can be quite an obstacle, there are techniques that can be utilized to create an engaging space to do so.
If you’ve chosen to change your behaviour, it’s because you love yourself. Self-love often gets overlooked, but its recognition is essential for true transformation. When you look in the mirror, do you ever tell yourself that you love yourself? Do you say it with conviction and compassion? It’s something that everyone can use a boost from. Try making it a daily habit.
2. Rationalize Your Fears
Making the decision to quit your addiction can bring on some fear, but it’s completely normal. Creating a list of your fears (one at a time) and then writing out the worst possible outcome and the most likely outcome can help untangle some of the worries in your mind. If you can, ask a friend to go through this list with you.
3. Appreciating The Benefits Of Sobriety
It can be hard to imagine that there’s a life better than the one you’re in. To do so, start to visualize what a greater sense of freedom would feel like, what healthier relationships with family and friends would be like. Being sober allows you to have better financial stability, more time to spend on what matters to you and improved mental and physical health. If the benefits of being sober are hard for you to appreciate, try to imagine what they would feel like.
4. Identifying Your Triggers
Having a solid understanding of your triggers can be like tapping into your ultimate superpower. Once you’ve tuned your awareness to them, which may take some time, you may be able to avoid some problematic situations.
5. Making Peace With The Past
For those who have addictions, shame and/or guilt are often felt when reflecting on behaviours of the past, and it’s completely normal. These feelings can act as catalysts for your behaviour to change. However, it’s essential to deal with these emotions and forgive yourself. Once the past is accepted, then it’s time to create the future you desire.
Getting your body moving every day will help keep your mind feel balanced. Changing an addiction pattern is hard enough. By getting your heart pumping and blood flowing, results will become more achievable in a balanced manner.
Achieving sobriety requires a lot of your time to be spent on yourself, but it’s also essential to give back. Volunteering provides the opportunity to shift your perspective, expanding your mind on what others need too. Getting involved within the community may make it easier to stay clean and sober.
8. Create Accountability
Support is the name of the game when it comes to a successful recovery. It’s wonderful if you can reach out to a friend or family member but having an accountability partner is even more important when you are attempting to change your behaviour.
9. Practicing Mindfulness
This technique might take some time to become accustomed to, but it can truly reinforce previous strategies learned for managing stress or triggers. In doing so, mindfulness can optimize one’s ability to achieve and maintain sobriety.
10. Seek Professional Support
There is nothing wrong with wanting to change on your own, but sometimes additional support can speed up the process and ensure its efficacy. Depending on what type of rehabilitation treatment is best for you, help can be a phone call away. Or you may prefer in-person groups, like NA Meetings in New York, so that you get support from others in a similar situation.
Understanding the specifics of how change progresses can give your mind the framework needed to create change. It’s not an overnight process, but it is achievable and has been beneficial for former addicts who have recovered.
The Transtheoretical Model
The transtheoretical model, developed by Prochaska & DiClemente (1983), examines how change occurs in “natural recovery” from addicts. This model has gained popularity among healthcare professionals who wish to utilize motivational and person-centred approaches.
This model has four main stages: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation and action. However, maintenance and relapse are also included as additional stages. These stages are cyclical in nature and follow a sequence, but this does not mean that individuals follow these stages in a linear fashion. Oftentimes people can go back to an earlier stage before progressing again.
The process of change begins with the pre-contemplation stage. People in this stage do not regard their behaviour as a problem, and they live happily with the toxic decisions they make. One reason to explain the rationale for this way of thinking is perhaps none of the negative consequences of their behaviour have been experienced.
People in this stage feel like they know it all and do not need to hear any advice to quit their addiction. They tend to see their addictive behaviour as positive. Eventually, the negative consequences begin to catch up with them and more often than not, this can push the individual into the next stage; contemplation.
The name of this stage encompasses much of what the individual is going through at this point—taking a deeper look into themselves and questioning whether the addictive behaviour is really serving them. They may begin to think about altering their beliefs resulting in cutting down, moderating, or quitting the addictive behaviour.
Someone in this stage is more open to constructive criticism about their addictive behaviour and begins implementing small changes. It should be noted that this is a sensitive stage, so non-judgemental information will be better received than confrontational methods. It is common for people with addictions to stay in the contemplation stage for many years, but those who decide to move on, transition to the preparation phase.
The Preparation Stage
Once someone has contemplated enough on what they need to do to make a change, they enter the preparation stage. This includes planning and preparing for long-lasting changes to pursue. There are a couple of factors that truly need to be established.
- Determining the magnitude of the change – Are they going to stop cold turkey or cut down to reduce harm?
- Determining how the change will happen – What steps will they take to initiate change?
- Obtaining necessary resources – For instance, if someone wants to stop a junk food addiction, the house should be supplied with healthier alternatives.
- Getting rid of triggers – A trigger brings about an immediate addictive behavioural response that can compromise your decision to change. For example, someone trying to stop smoking weed happens to see rolling papers on the table. This can activate specific pathways in the brain, initiating an addictive response.
- Having support in place – At this point, you want to ensure that each input in your life will support your decision to make a change. This includes your family, your friends and your home environment. Perhaps an inpatient residential program would benefit your recovery. If you choose that path, then informing your family and friends would be optimal.
The Action Stage
At this stage, everything that was highlighted in the preparation stage becomes implemented. This is when real change – change of behaviour – begins. It can be stressful for some, limits are tested, and one’s inner strength is demanded. This is why the previous stage is crucial for success. With good preparation, this stage can be optimized.
For many addictions, the initial phase of recovery is detoxifying the body. Some people can do this from home, but many choose to go to a rehab centre where they have access to medical professionals to help guide them through the process.
The Maintenance Stage
This section of the model regards continuing with the momentum developed in the action stage. Like when creating a new habit, consistency is key. This can be the most challenging part. It is often the case that the sensation of reaching that desired goal (abstaining from or reducing alcohol and/or drug consumption) loses its potency. This is where the challenge of keeping consistent can be stressful. This stress can be mitigated if proper coping strategies are learned in the preparation and action stages.
The Relapse Stage
We’ve all been there. We say we’re not going to do something, and then we do it again. This is a normal part of change, especially in those breaking the addictive behavioural pattern. Sometimes an individual will have some – or many – hiccups where they engage with the addictive behaviour before maintenance is achieved.
Every human is different and how they change is a highly subjective matter. While some people can develop a balanced relationship with occasional indulgence after recovery, others may need to sustain abstinence to keep their addiction under control. In either case, changing human behaviour is possible with the right preparation and support. One just has to determine the right formula for their needs.
For additional information or support, we invite you to contact us via our website, Simcoe Addiction and Mental Health, Ontario’s luxury addiction rehabilitation centre.
Written By Bibin K. Ittiavira, Clinical Therapist MSW, RSW. Simcoe Addiction and Mental Health.
Prochaska, J. O., & DiClemente, C. C. (1983). Stages and processes of self-change of smoking: toward an integrative model of change. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 51(3), 390.