You Are Not Your Habits: How to Work Through and Overcome Substance Abuse
If you live with a mental health disorder, it can feel like your condition is an unchangeable part of
who you are. While there could be some truth to that, it’s not the whole story. Anxiety,
depression and most other mental illnesses are partially passed down genetically, which makes
your susceptibility largely outside your control. They may also be the result of your upbringing,
or early childhood experiences. And because there’s no quick cure for the majority of
psychological conditions, it’s important to have a plan for maintaining your mental health in the
However, it’s important to recognize that the severity of your struggle can be improved by habits
that you can change. This is especially true if you often find yourself leaning on drugs and
alcohol during tough times. Because you may perform these behaviors without thinking about
them, it’s difficult (and sometimes even impossible) to realize the ways that your mental health
can be affected by harmful habits.
When you’re feeling anxious or depressed, it’s often easier to grab a beer than to find a
healthier way to sort through your feelings and relax your mind. Drugs and alcohol can provide a
quick distraction from unpleasant thoughts, but research shows that these activities actually
deteriorate mental health over time. The more you rely on substances to curb stress, the more
stress you’ll feel. This is because alcohol and drug use doesn’t actually teach you a sustainable,
healthy way to process troubling thoughts: It temporarily masks them. As soon as the
pleasurable effects wear off, the negative thoughts will return, now accompanied by cravings.
Over time, this dangerous cycle can lead to substance dependence, or worse: addiction.
This isn’t to say that the occasional drink is always bad or will always harm your psychological
well-being. But alcohol and drugs can absolutely damage your psyche and lead to a substance
use disorder if you make a habit out of using them to relieve mental health difficulties.
It may be difficult to remember exactly when you started to use substances as a crutch. Maybe
your mom solved her problems with a bottle of wine, or your dad numbed himself with pills
instead of talking to the people who loved him. Maybe you watched your best friend do it, or
your boyfriend. Maybe you tried it once, and now you don’t know how to else to soothe yourself.
Regardless of how you learned this coping mechanism, it’s your responsibility to change it. And
no matter how out of control your drug and alcohol use might feel, it’s critical to remember that
these actions aren’t you. You can change them, and adopt a way of living that helps you be
happier, healthier and more hopeful.
The following practices can help you break free from substance abuse and make mental health
1. Find Better Ways to Manage Stress: For most people, anxiety and stress stem from
negative emotions. Instead of turning to substances when these feelings arise, going for
a walk, meditating, journaling or practicing yoga can help you learn to sort out your
thoughts. Over time, these activities may actually decrease negative thoughts and make
2. Lean on Those Who Love You: Isolating yourself from the people who care about you
can be all too easy, especially when you’re grappling with anxiety or depression. But
friends and family can be an enormous source of strength and support during tough times. If you’re struggling, reach out to someone close to you. The company of people
you care about is more healing than you think.
3. Practice Healthy Habits: It’s easy to take for granted how small, mundane actions
affect your mood. For better or for worse, tiny habits can have an enormous cumulative
effect. Eating healthy foods, exercising and getting enough sleep have been scientifically
shown to improve well-being and cognitive functioning.
4. Talk to a Professional: Professional care can be enormously beneficial for people
struggling with a substance use disorder, but it is especially crucial for those who also
have a co-occurring mental health condition. Whether you speak to a therapist or attend
a full service drug or alcohol rehab center, working with experts who understand what
you’re going through can help you gain perspective about your substance use. It may
also connect you to therapies and medications that improve your daily life.
If you’re struggling with addiction, The Recovery Village can help you rediscover your
true self. With facilities located across the country and treatment options available for
people with co-occurring mental health conditions, The Recovery Village offers
something for everyone. Call today to get started.
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