Down the Habit Hole

Last Updated: Sep 20th 2019

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

In South Florida rehab centers, habits tend to reveal a lot about the nature of addiction. Many of us have routines, a lot of them daily. Maybe the first thing you do when you wake up is to take a shower. Maybe every day at noon, you enjoy a big bowl of chili. Maybe once a week, you go on a walk through the neighborhood.

These rituals, after a period of time, come to define us in some way. They aren’t who we are, but they provide a cornerstone of what one might consider ‘normality’. People that go to the gym often will say they get agitated if they have to miss a trip to pump iron, runners will make similar comments about the disruption.

As a person’s substance use disorder takes hold and begins changing the brain chemistry, it can introducing craving and desire that override their normal intentions, habits can develop and often times provide the most difficult obstacle to recovery.

When someone develops a pattern of use, it can be just as reliable as a measurement of ‘normal’ as another person’s fresh cup of coffee first thing in the morning. It’s never intended to be that, as these habits form over a period of time. Someone doesn’t just decide once that, “Oh, I’m going to snort a line of coke every day at 3pm!” after the first time they do it, just like there was not a day when the person who drinks coffee in the morning decided one day that this was the thing they decided will define the start of their day.

It happens organically, often time without the cognizant recognition of the person as it develops into habit. When the drug enters the body and begins rewiring how dopamine and the prefrontal cortex message each other, it can be nearly undetectable, especially for substances like alcohol. After an extended period of time, the combination of habit along with the chemical aspect of addiction and neurological changes in the user to create artificial cravings for the substance becomes an ever insurmountable obstacle that for nearly everyone who falls victim to it cannot escape from without extreme outside forces or jarring and shocking events. Even then, it’s not guaranteed that it will be enough for a person to begin to unlearn what becomes essentially an internalized and subsconscious behavioral pattern.

The longest and most difficult part of treatment is relapse prevention. Imagine any one of your rituals, daily, monthly or weekly, and think about not doing it. If you normally drink a cup of coffee in the morning, simply stop drinking coffee in the morning. It’s much harder than you realize. Now throw in high levels of addictive changes in the brain, many of which are permanent, and you can begin to see the difficulty of truly staying in control over addiction. It’s not easy, though it does become easier over time, but there’s more than simply ‘not using’ at play when being treated for substance use and habit is one of the most amorphous yet most difficult any person suffering from substance use disorder will have to face.

Substance abuse treatment in Florida uses a holistic treatment method which tackles habits as well as the chemical and neurological parts of addiction including treating withdrawal from Oxycodone. For the best treatment in south Florida, call First Step Behavioral Health at (866) 971-5531.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky, MSW, LCSW

Brittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is the Assistant Clinical Director at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.