People who have a substance use disorder often find that overcoming it is more challenging than they expected. They may feel that addiction is a myth and they can quit any time they want or that they are an exception to the rule. This can also occur with behavioral addictions involving activities such as eating, sex, gambling, shopping, and exercise.
Learning how to overcome an addiction is important for anyone experiencing a substance use disorder (SUD). While challenging, recognizing that there is a problem and learning more about the process of quitting are important first steps in recovery.
This article discusses what you will need to do to overcome an addiction and offers tips that can help. It also covers the symptoms of withdrawal that you might experience and some of the effective treatment options that are available.
Why Overcoming Addiction Is So Difficult
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a “treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences.”
People continue to engage in harmful behaviors despite negative consequences because addiction changes the brain’s reward system, which increases the desire for the substances or experiences. These changes in the brain also affect impulse control and judgment, which makes quitting that much more challenging.
Though addiction recovery is challenging, addiction is treatable. With supportive resources and the right treatment approach, you can overcome the physical and mental challenges you face in order to recover.
Addiction leads to changes in the brain that make quitting more difficult. Fortunately, addiction is treatable and there are things that you can do to improve your success in overcoming your addiction.
How to Overcome an Addiction
According to one model of behavior change known as the transtheoretical model, making any kind of change involves a process that starts with pre-contemplation and moves into contemplation.
During these early stages of the process, you might be in denial about the effects of your addiction. As you become more aware of the problems you are facing, you might then struggle with feelings of ambivalence even as you become more aware of your need to overcome your addiction.
Once you make that decision to change, however, you can begin the process of preparing to take action.
Decide to Change
The decision to change is one of the most important steps in overcoming an addiction. By acknowledging that a change is needed, it means that you recognize that there is a problem and have a desire to address it.
Making the decision to change and deciding what that will look like is a process that often takes time. This is known as the contemplation stage because it involves thinking about whether to change and how.
Ambitious goals are not always best, however. It is better to set a goal that you will actually achieve than to plan to quit “cold turkey” and end up relapsing, which can be more dangerous than simply continuing without any changes.
Consulting a doctor, addiction counselor, or psychologist is particularly helpful at this stage as they can help you understand the risks and what can help alleviate them.
Harm Reduction Strategies
During the pre-contemplation and contemplation stages of change, a harm reduction approach may be helpful. Harm reduction recognizes that while total abstinence is the goal, it is a process that takes time. Although quitting entirely is the best path to wellness, reducing or eliminating the most harmful substance use or behavior is a huge improvement and will greatly reduce the harm caused.
Prepare to Change
Once you are clear on your goal, you may still need to prepare to change. Preparations include removing addictive substances from your home as well as eliminating triggers in your life that may make you more likely to use those substances again.
This often means getting rid of paraphernalia or other items that might trigger your desire to use a substance or engage in a harmful behavior. You may also find it necessary to change your routine so that you have less contact with people or settings that trigger cravings.
Other ways to prepare include deciding what approach you plan to use to overcome your addiction and getting the resources that you need to be successful.
For example, a person who is trying to quit a substance would start by deciding whether they are going to stop cold turkey or gradually reduce their substance use. Next, they would get the tools they need to quit successfully such as finding a support group or talking to a healthcare provider about prescription medications.
Seek Social Support
Perhaps the hardest preparations to make concern social relationships. For people living with addictions, some of their relationships may revolve around addictive behaviors. In such cases, setting boundaries within those relationships and joining a self-help group can be helpful for providing a group of people who understand what they are going through.
Loneliness can be a challenge when you are quitting. You may have lost touch with old friends and loved ones, and changing your behavior may make it difficult to spend time around people who are still using substances or engaging in certain behaviors. But finding people who support your recovery can be very helpful and may improve your outcomes.
Take time to contact friends and family who will support you in your goals. You might also want to let those friends who drink, use drugs, or engage in addictive behaviors know that you are planning to change.
They may not understand—or you may be pleasantly surprised. Either way, it’s a good idea to let them know of your goal and what they can do to support it (even if that means taking a break from the friendship for a time).
Reach Out to Healthcare Providers
For drug addictions, it is a good idea to talk to a doctor or local drug clinic about whether you need medical help in quitting. There are options for medications to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, you may need medical supervision during the detox process.
If you have an underlying mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression, it could worsen during the withdrawal phase. Healthcare providers can be very supportive and helpful while navigating these challenges.
The first step in overcoming addiction involves deciding to make a change. From there, preparing, planning, finding support, and talking to a healthcare provider can help put you on a path to a successful recovery.
Get Treatment to Overcome an Addiction
There are many different treatments that can help you during the process of overcoming an addiction, including medical and psychological approaches. There is no one “right” type of addiction treatment, although some approaches are better supported by research than others.
Behavioral therapies and other types of psychotherapy can help people improve their coping skills, develop new behavioral patterns, and change the underlying thoughts that often contribute to addiction. Different types of therapy that may help include:
- Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT): CBT is an approach that focuses on identifying and changing the thoughts and behaviors that play a part in addictions. It has been shown to be very effective in helping people overcome all kinds of addictions.8 But CBT is not for everyone. Other approaches may be better suited for those who do not relate well to analyzing their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
- Mindfulness therapy: Mindfulness-based approaches like mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) can be easier to relate to for many people. As with CBT, mindfulness is helpful for people with underlying mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression.
- Motivational enhancement therapy (MET): MET is an approach that helps increase people’s readiness to change. It can be helpful for improving the commitment and motivation to initial and remain in treatment.
- Family therapy: Family therapy approaches can be helpful, particularly with teens and young adults. This type of therapy can help families learn more about how to support their loved one’s recovery and can be effective for improving overall family functioning.
Medications can be utilized to treat symptoms of withdrawal, help people remain in treatment, and prevent relapse. The type of medication a doctor prescribes depends on the type of addiction that is being treated. For example, there are different medications available to treat opioid addiction.
Medications can sometimes be helpful in both the short term and the long term. Talk to a doctor about the options that are available to and appropriate for you.