How to break a habit
We all have habits. It’s a normal part of being human.
But habits can be a problem when they start to control us rather than the other way round.
How habits start
Habits start because they help us in some way.
For some of us going to the gym gives us a pleasant buzz.
For others having a drink helps us to relax or feel more confident socially.
Maybe smoking cannabis with friends helps you feel less lonely or bored.
Because we get some benefit from doing these things, we do them again - and again.
How they get out of control
The longer habits go on, the stronger they become.
Our brains start to expect the happy hormones we get from our habit, whether it’s exercising, having a drink or using drugs.
If we don’t do the thing our brain is expecting us to do we get strong urges, sometimes known as cravings.
It can start to feel like our habit has got control of us instead of the other way round.
How to break a habit
If you stop a habit suddenly your brain will miss the happy hormones it used to give you and you’ll start to get cravings.
That’s why it’s important to replace old habits with new ones.
Developing new habits will help to distract you from cravings. It will also start to retrain your brain so that your old habit no longer has such a strong grip on you.
If you're dependent on alcohol
or you think you may be, it’s important to get medical advice before stopping or changing your drinking habits. Speak to your doctor if you have these symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Understand your feelings
Start by thinking about what feelings the old habit used to help you with.
Do you drink to cope with boredom? Maybe it’s time to take up a new interest. Our interactive tool can help you find a new distraction.
Did drugs help you block out the grief of losing a relationship or a loved one? Perhaps some counselling would help.
Finding new ways to cope with old feelings will help you to leave your unhelpful habit behind.
It’s all about taking small steps and finding what works best for you.
Other things to try
It may help to:
- Keep a diary - this will help you understand your habit and the feelings that trigger it
- Avoid triggers - try to stay away from people, places and situations that could trigger your habit (see Triggers: how to avoid them)
- Look after yourself - eat well, sleep lots and spend time with people you trust (see some other tips for looking after yourself)
- Stop for a short while - if you’re not ready to drop a habit for good, you could just see how it feels to give it up for a bit
- Set yourself some fresh goals - our interactive tool can help you take the first step towards your goals
Would you like some support?
For free, confidential support to change a habit: