5 action steps for quitting an addiction

Published: January, 2021

Because change is so difficult, it's useful to have a guide when attempting to kick an addiction to drugs, alcohol or behavior. Research shows that the following steps can help you move toward your recovery goals. You have the greatest chance of success if you adopt all five steps.

1. Set a quit date. It might be helpful to choose a meaningful date like a special event, birthday, or anniversary.

2. Change your environment. Remove any reminders of your addiction from your home and workplace. For example, separate from those who would encourage you to be involved with the object of your addiction (drug, alcohol, or behavior). If you are trying to quit drinking, get rid of any alcohol, bottle openers, wine glasses, and corkscrews. If you're trying to quit gambling, remove any playing cards, scratch tickets, or poker chips. Also, don't let other people use or bring reminders of the addiction-related substance or behavior into your home.

3. Distract yourself. Instead of giving in to an urge to use, come up with alternative activities, such as going for a walk or calling a friend or family member to talk, so that you keep busy until the urge passes. Be prepared to deal with things that trigger your cravings, such as being in an environment where others are using.

4. Review your past attempts at quitting. Think about what worked and what did not. Consider what might have contributed to relapse and make changes accordingly.

5. Create a support network. Talk to your family and friends and ask for their encouragement and sup-port. Let them know you are quitting. If they use your object of addiction, ask them not to do so in front of you. If you buy drugs, you should consider telling your dealer that you are quitting; ask your dealer not to call you and not to sell you drugs anymore. Also, you might want to consider talking to your health care provider about the method of quitting that is best for you. There may be medications that can ease the process for you and increase your chances of success.

For more information on finding an effective path to recovery, check out Overcoming Addiction, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

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