Many people do not understand why others become addicted to drugs. They may assume that people with alcohol or drug issues simply lack morals or willpower. However, anyone who has had a substance use disorder, or knows someone who has the disorder, knows how hard it is to break addiction. Drugs change the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even for those who want to.1
On top of the fact that breaking any behavior is difficult, quitting addiction comes with its unique hurdle—withdrawal, in the form of unpleasant, and sometimes life-threatening, physical and psychological symptoms.
Physical withdrawal symptoms from drug and alcohol addiction can include:
The psychological symptoms of drug and alcohol withdrawal often look like:
More severe cases of withdrawal can result in hallucinations, seizures, and delirium. The type of drug, the dosage, and the duration that one has taken the drug can all contribute to the severity of withdrawal.2 Many physical symptoms resolve in a few days to a few weeks, but psychological symptoms can linger for months after quitting an addiction.
The first step one must take to stop addiction is to admit there is a problem. Many people with substance use disorders use denial as a coping strategy and cannot or will not admit they have an actual issue. Research shows that there are specific steps people must be willing to take to break addiction most effectively, and admitting the issue is the first barrier to break.
Once you can admit that you have an issue with substances and want to stop an addiction, you must prepare for change. This step means changing one’s environment in a way that will promote sobriety. The change may look like ending friendships with others who have substance use disorders and avoiding friends and family who use substances around you.
It can also be helpful to rid your home of any alcohol, bottle openers, wine glasses—anything that reminds you of alcohol if you are dealing with alcohol addiction. The same goes for drug addiction; any drug paraphernalia should be thrown out to lessen the urge to use. At this point in the journey to sobriety, it is also important to mentally prepare for the life changes that will ensue once you stop addiction.3
Accountability is the next step to break addiction. Taking personal responsibility for your drug abuse or alcohol abuse can be difficult but empowering. Instead of blaming substance abuse on outside factors, admitting that drug use is ultimately your choice can help you stay empowered, and ideally encourage you to avoid the substance in the future. Taking accountability can also illuminate why you used drugs in the first place; targeting that root issue can aid you to quit the addiction.
Seeking professional help is another step to take to stop addiction. Treatment can come in the form of inpatient and outpatient treatment, counseling and therapy, and other medical interventions. Treatment often lasts a lifetime, and every treatment plan is different depending on the person.
Lastly, investing in yourself, and learning self-love, is an invaluable tool to aid in quitting addiction.
You know yourself better than anyone else, and sometimes people struggling with substance abuse disorder can feel a relapse coming on weeks, or even months in advance. Maybe a death in the family will send your emotions into a place that primes you for a relapse; maybe going to a party where there will be alcohol, you will be more prone to relapse. Get to know your emotions and moods to know when relapse is most likely for you—you can prevent it more effectively if you see it coming.
Some common relapse triggers are bad relationships, stress, poor self-care, withdrawal symptoms, being around people who use, and going to the places you used to use. Ruminating over past experiences with substances can also be a trigger. It’s important to understand addiction vs. obsession; even once addiction has ceased, obsession with past substance use can trigger future use. Avoid triggers to avoid relapse.
In your moments of weakness, when relapse feels like the only thing you can think about, remember why you quit in the first place. Think about how sick you were when you were using, or how you may have hurt the people you love. Focus on how much better your life will be when you are healthy, empowered, and closer to your loved ones.
You do not have to recover alone and getting support can make the road to sobriety much easier. Counselors, family, friends, and support groups like AA and NA can help you.
This step means first managing withdrawal symptoms with prescribed medications and professional help. Being sure to get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, and get exercise will also help you feel better. Look for healthy ways to reward yourself and spend time doing the things you love.
Most of all, treat yourself with kindness and compassion, as quitting addiction is not an easy process. But, if you do relapse, remember that recovery is a marathon, not a race. Relapsing two, three, four times is common on the journey to sobriety. The most important thing to do is keep trying, even if you fail.