All habits are behaviors that have been repeated enough times to become automatic. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, breaks habits into simple feedback loops composed of four steps: cue, craving, response, and reward. His four laws of behavior change are rules we can use to build new (hopefully better) habits.

The four laws are:
Make it obvious
Make it attractive
Make it easy
Make it satisfying

Add This to Your Recovery Toolbox

As I mentioned in my previous blog, a Substance Use Disorder is more than a “bad habit”. Substance and behavioral addictions are complex psychosocial, physical, and some say, spiritual conditions. My purpose in discussing Clear’s work is to encourage people who desire sobriety to consider using some of his concepts as part of their recovery toolbox.

The more automatic a behavior becomes, the less likely we are to think about it. We tend to overlook things we’ve done thousands of times. One of the simplest yet most effective suggestions Clear makes is to compile a detailed list of habitual behavior.

When I really sat and did this, trying to include the most subtle and repeated behaviors, there were so many, I found it useful to break them down into morning, work, and evening routines. The value in this exercise is to begin to shine the light of awareness onto habitual behaviors. We can’t change something we aren’t aware of.

Support Sobriety With Healthy Habits

I had discussed this concept with Kim, a 24-year old patient who has been sober now for a couple of tentative weeks. She already has some fairly extensive liver damage, and is desperate for sobriety. Her ‘homework’ was to write down her own habitual behaviors; we were looking for some possible landmines that might sabotage her attempts at sobriety.

The first thing that caught her attention was her habit of looking at social media at stoplights, especially on her way home from work at the daycare center. By the time she got home, she realized, this very act already had her anxiety stirring. All she wanted to do by then was to find an escape for the anxiety and popping a bottle of beer had always been a quick fix.

This small example was incredibly helpful to Kim.

Kim not only wanted to stop the habit of drinking beer, she knew she also wanted to build better self care habits. Using Clear’s first law to make it obvious, Kim decided to fill her refrigerator with multiple colorful cans of seltzer water. A beautiful in-your-face display with each opening of the refrigerator door.


Make It Invisible, Make Sobriety Visible

To eliminate a bad habit — using beer to quell her anxiety —we talked about Clear’s inverse of the first law: make it invisible. It was a no-brainer to not have beer in the refrigerator, but Kim took it a step farther. Because she had really taken the time to explore her habitual behavior and was able to notice some of the triggers to her anxiety (which triggered her drinking behavior), Kim decided to actually make her phone invisible, or at least inaccessible to her on her ride home from work. She resolved to put the phone in her purse, far back in her car where she could not reach it while strapped into the driver’s seat.

Interestingly, she found the first few days of doing this was “ridiculously hard” in her words. She committed to not even having the radio on during her rides home, and instead to focus on some breathing exercises her counselor had taught her.

Make Your Recovery Plan a Habit

Kim is committed to her sobriety, and as strongly advised, is taking a multi-faceted approach to her recovery plan. She is attending twelve step support meetings with other people her age through a collegiate recovery program and continues to see her counselor, as well as follow up with our office and her liver specialist. She has found the long-acting naltrexone implant to be incredibly helpful in reducing her impulse to drink. I hope in the future to have her write a guest blog, sharing her journey.

In the meantime, if you have any questions about how the Coleman Institute for Addiction Medicine can help you or a loved one safely detox off alcohol, or the various opioids (Opana®, Oxycontin® and hydrocodone products, methadone, buprenorphine, heroin or fentanyl) please give us a call at 877-773-3869. Probably the most consistent response we hear from our patients is how loving and caring our staff is.

This is the second post of a five-part series. Check out the other posts in this blog series here.
PART 1 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5

Joan R. Shepherd, FNP