Natural recoverers kick addiction without help

Christine Junge

Former Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

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A few years ago, a friend of mine decided to quit smoking. She didn’t follow any pre-set plan, like Nicotine Anonymous, or do any research. Instead, she just quit. She also took up running, and around the same time started dating someone new—someone who didn’t smoke. She’s been cigarette-free ever since.

We tend to think that stopping an addictive behavior means joining a group, seeing a therapist, going to a treatment center, or taking a medication that helps with cravings. It may come as a surprise to you—it certainly surprised me—that some people break addictions without any help.

It turns out that my friend instinctively did what these “natural recoverers” often do to break addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling, and other problems. Many natural recoverers take these two steps:

  • They find a new hobby, challenge, or relationship to help fill the void left by the addiction. It may be something they liked doing before the addiction took over, or something new. Whatever it is, it provides new meaning in their lives.
  • They start exercising. This is important for two reasons. One, exercise is a natural antidepressant. It relieves stress and helps you think more clearly. Two, exercise prompts the body to release its own psychoactive substances—endorphins—that trigger the brain’s reward pathway and promote a feeling of well-being.

Both of these steps are important on their own, but they also lead to a vital outcome: the person becomes reinvested in himself or herself and in a new community, most likely of people who aren’t involved in the object of addiction.

It isn’t by any means a foolproof approach. Natural recoverers usually try to quit several times; ultimately, one attempt succeeds. Yet each attempt represents a lesson learned and progress toward the ultimate goal of quitting. In fact, research shows that each attempt has its own probability of success, so repeated attempts to quit increase the likelihood of eventual success.

The more severe the addiction, the harder natural recovery becomes. It is also difficult if other psychological disorders are present. Anyone with a severe addiction, depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues will have a better chance at success by enlisting the help of a health professional. And here’s a cautionary note: Don’t try to break an addiction to an anti-anxiety medication or tranquilizer on your own, because the withdrawal symptoms can be very serious, and sometimes even fatal.

This information—and more insights on breaking an addiction—can be found in Overcoming Addiction: Paths toward recovery, a new Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School. You can see a description of the report, a;ong with a free excerpt on assessing your readiness to change, at

Have you recovered from an addiction? Tell us what worked for you.


  1. Aaron

    I’m putting together a blog of hobbies. Someone who is trying to stop an addiction might find it useful for finding a hobby to replace it.

  2. Sara Snow

    The first step is super important in that typically when an addict withdraws from their addiction triggers, such as an alcoholic no longer frequenting bars or decreasing time spent in social drinking prone scenarios, they can often become lonely and feel a void. Having a new activity, hobby, or means of social engagement to fill that can greatly decrease the urge to relapse simply to re-fill that void.

    A number of treatment centers incorporate various “natural” aspects into treatment.

  3. Matt

    I think for many people it is about reconditioning that addiction. For example, getting yourself addicted to Quit Tea and so when you get stressed you think “I want a cup of tea” instead of “I want a cigarette.” It doesn’t take long to break the older addiction with a new one. Exercise is definitely an important part of quitting as well.

    • Sahalat

      I recently dseiovcred your blog/website and have genuinely enjoyed reading this and some of the other posts. I thought I would dive out from the shadows and leave my first comment. I’m not certain what to say other than I have enjoyed reading and will continue to visit as frequently as I can.

  4. Dr_SubhashDabir

    Natural deaddiction can occur when the addiction is superficial and at primary stage. Alcohol deaddiction is harder than tobacco addiction as alcohol withdrawl symptoms like tremours force the person again for addiction.

  5. Cassie Miller

    This post was really amazing. I hope that more people will have time to read this article and share this to everyone especially for teens and students that are having this kind of problem and help themselves fight this kind of illness. Depression can cause them do things that can even harm themselves.

    More tips for inner understanding from this self harm training

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