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time posted
Oct 18, 2022

How Long Does it Take to Kick an Addiction?

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Admitting that you struggle with an addiction can be a daunting step and usually takes some time before you are really ready to accept, you have a problem. Reading this blog and looking for addiction counselling in Calgary means you have made that step. Congratulations, take a moment to reflect on the fact that you are taking control of your addiction.

Once you have admitted the struggle, the next question usually is, “What can I do about it?” The answer may come in many forms, some of which will be discussed in this blog.

Realizing that your struggle with addiction may need outside assistance is another frightening step. This may be because when you admit you need another person’s help, you are admitting the problem is serious.

When a problem is serious there is a lot of work needed to overcome it. Addiction can be overcome with addictions counselling services tailored to your needs.

What is Addiction?

The word ‘addiction’ is used in many different contexts, sometimes incorrectly. Let’s look at what addiction really is.

Addiction is a chemical disruption in the brain. Very simply, when we do something that brings us pleasure the brain releases a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for us feeling good or rewarded.

When we feel rewarded, we repeat whatever we did to get the feeling again and who doesn’t love feeling good?

Unfortunately, when this feeling is caused by something unnatural, such as a substance or highly activating activity, the amount of dopamine is unusually high. This rush leaves us feeling better than usual, which makes the urge to repeat it stronger.

This pattern continues until the urge to use a substance or complete an activity is so strong that we cannot resist it, even though it is harmful for us. This pattern shifts the brain’s chemistry so that it needs very high levels of dopamine to feel any reward.

This is often why we need to increase the amount of substance or the frequency of behaviors to feel any sense of reward. This is what is now labeled as an addiction.

If you are not sure whether you have an addiction or should reach out for help, check out our article dedicated to helping you figure out when to seek addiction counselling.

Why is 21 Days Not Enough?

It is commonly said that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. This has been disproved and we now understand it takes much longer.

Remember, although colloquially an addiction can be called a habit, addiction is a disease that has a biological underpinning and not a simple behavioral habit.

It can often take up to a month for the physical withdrawal and cravings to lessen, and about 90 days before many treatment programs are comfortable to shift from active treatment to maintaining recovery.

This is often because there are usually underlying causes of addiction that need to be explored and healed.

Treatment Programs

With the understanding that addiction is a disease without, a cure we might feel disheartened and ask, “What can I do?”

Whilst there is no cure for addiction, there are a variety of treatment programs that can help break an addiction and provide you with the tools and support to stay clean.

These treatment programs often use counselling or therapy. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer, rather it is important to find addiction counselling services that work for you.

There are different therapeutic techniques used to support breaking an addiction.

Some of these services are:

  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy
  2. Acceptance and commitment therapy
  3. EMDR Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT highlights the connection between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Each of these elements are intertwined and will affect each other.

For example, if you think that you will never meet a deadline at work, you could feel fear at what the consequences would be. To alleviate this fear, you decide to take stimulants or ‘uppers’ to keep you awake and feeling ‘buzzed’ enough to finish the project before deadline.

In the short term this may feel helpful. You have stopped feeling afraid and finished the project on time. However, there would be negative consequences such as needing more stimulants to keep your energy up, not being able to complete future projects without the use of them and having heart palpitations because of the stimulation caused by their use.

CBT helps you:

  • Identify the three areas of your actions (thought, feeling, behavior)
  • Identify triggers that start the thought process
  • Reframe these thoughts and behaviors into healthier coping mechanisms
  • Learn self-help tools to use when faced with situations that may trigger a relapse

2. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

ACT is a technique that helps us shift our behavior by accepting our struggle without judging ourselves. Sometimes when we face the struggle of judgement with an addiction, feelings of shame and guilt become overwhelming and can lead to using our drug/behavior of choice to help cope.

ACT aims to lessen this struggle by using compassionate self-understanding skills by helping you to understand your emotional triggers and/or past events that may trigger a need to engage in the addiction.

ACT helps you:

  • Face your present struggle in the moment
  • View this struggle without self-recrimination and judgement
  • Overcome the challenges that the addiction creates with flexibility and practical skills
  • Use these skills which are supported by your personal beliefs and values
  • Create a sustainable commitment to maintaining sobriety

3. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Addiction is usually connected with an underlying emotional or thought trigger. Sometimes this trigger is trauma related. EMDR is a technique that has great success in helping reprocess traumatic events to ease the emotional triggers. There is an increased number of professionals using EMDR to assist trauma related addiction.

Using rapid eye movements, EMDR helps reprocess traumatic memories so they do not have a physical and vivid emotional reaction in the present moment. It is often these physical and emotional responses that may trigger the urge to turn to our addiction.

EMDR can help you:

  • Identify the point of emotional distress
  • Learn stress reduction skills
  • Identify negative self-beliefs stemming from trauma
  • Reprocess traumatic events and beliefs
  • Learn self-calming techniques

What is Relapse Prevention?

After initial treatment, we would move into the recovery and maintenance of our sobriety with an aim to prevent a relapse. Sometimes, a relapse may occur on our recovery journey. It is important to remember that whilst this is a setback that can affect us strongly, it is possible for us to recommit to sobriety and continue with recovery.

To support our recovery, it is a good idea to have a relapse prevention plan. This plan acts like a parachute, however, we need to pack our parachute before we get into the plane and not when we are busy falling out of it!

This means we need to have a plan that can be integrated and practiced in our everyday life. Here are some ideas to possibly include in your relapse prevention plan:

  • Therapeutic support: continue to see your therapist or addictions counsellor. Look for addiction counsellors near you and support groups that you can join.
  • Practice your identifying skills: Be aware of your triggers. Make a list and keep it on your fridge!
  • Mindful self-care: This is a difficult process and can seem tiring at times, so make sure you are looking after yourself. Meditation, exercise, hydration, healthy food, and enough sleep are all important elements in preventing a relapse.
  • Grounding: In those moments where you feel overwhelmed, you will need to take a moment to pause and gather yourself to feel safe and secure when choosing your next behavior. Deep breathing (breathe in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, breathe out for a count of 4) a few times can help with this.

To Wrap Up

Breaking an addiction and staying sober is a life-long process. Addiction is complicated and incredibly powerful habit system that requires us to be fully committed to recovery. This also means mustering the courage to understand the reason for the addiction.

There are many therapeutic treatments that can be tailored into the best face-to-face or online counselling services in Calgary.

If you are looking for addictions counselling in Calgary, you are starting one of the most important journeys of your life and One Life Counselling and Coaching is here to support you through it.

I am the founder of One Life Counselling and Coaching LTD and I am honored to lead a team of professional psychologists, psychotherapist’s and life coaches who dedicate their professional lives to helping people to elevate their mindsets, evolve their beliefs and learn to thrive in the present moment.
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