Why do we do the things we do?
Why do we do things we don’t want to be doing, and why is it sometimes so hard to start doing things we want to be doing?
These questions and more led me to my side hobby of behavioral sciences.
I find it fascinating to learn all about the seemingly simple science of habits, that is actually anything but.
I write much more about this in my Step 4 of my book Younger Joints Today, a whole chapter in fact, talking about habits and lifestyle decisions as they impact our joint health.
If you, like me, geek out on this topic, a few of my favorite authors on the subject are Carol Dweck, Brene Brown, Charles Duhigg, James Clear, Brendon Burchard and anything that the brothers Heath (Chip and Dan) write.
So why am I choosing to talk about serious topics like addiction right now? Because I’ve seen the stats on increased alcohol and opioid abuse for my state since the pandemic began, and I imagine those stats are similar globally right now. The need for support around this topic is timely.
My aim here is to talk generally about habits, addictions, what we can all try on our own, and when to reach for help.
The American College of Lifestyle Medicine defines lifestyle medicine as, “the use of a whole food, plant-predominant dietary lifestyle, regular physical activity, restorative sleep, stress management, avoidance of risky substances and positive social connection as a primary therapeutic modality for treatment and reversal of chronic disease.”
This subject quickly transitions into the topic of habits, good and bad, as well as addictions.
I’ll start first with talking about addiction. I like the definition Dr. Nzinga Harrison has described on her In Recovery podcast (a great resource for those who are or who love someone in addiction recovery), which is that addiction is persistent behavior despite negative outcomes.
I like this because of its generality, it’s applicability to any type of addiction, and its absence of specifics on use. Becoming addicted to a substance or behavior can happen at various levels and frequency of use, depending on genetics, medical history, trauma history, social circumstances, and more.
I am not an addiction counselor, so for those needing intensive support, they may consider an in-patient treatment center or for local (Oregon-based) counseling, I often refer to Christy Hey or Molly Rodden at Well Life Medicine Center.
When to turn to a counselor? Well, like in so many other realms, think about turning to a professional when you feel you can’t go it alone any longer. You probably know what I mean. You can’t keep it all together, it feels like something’s got to give, and you just can’t see what the first step out of this is.
That’s what professional support is for.
Like counselors and treatment, choosing to participate in group meetings focused on addiction recovery is also an individualized approach. Most know about AA, with associated off-shoot branches such as NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and OA (Overeaters Anonymous). I do not believe there is a one-size-fits-all approach to addiction recovery. For those looking for a non-religious recovery organization, SMART Recovery is an option.
Ok, now addictions aside, what about those who are struggling with more of a, “I really know I should/shouldn’t be doing this,” but don’t put the behavior in the same category of seriousness as an addiction.
Well, I’ll continue talking about alcohol a little bit more, then we’ll move onto other topics.
Going sober for a month is no new fad. Many choose to do this January of each year. There’s also Sober October, and a number of diet plans and programs (such as Whole30) where 30 days of alcohol abstinence is a part.
For many, going 30 days cold turkey with no booze is daunting. If you’re looking to cut back, or do a temporary alcohol elimination, a few self-guided programs out there are the Alcohol Experiment by Annie Grace or Sober Sis by Jenn Kautch (the latter is geared towards women with a Christian/ spiritual affiliation).
Jumping off all this, my strongest recommendation is to get a coach to help you work through the patterns you’re wanting to change. Whether it’s reducing your alcohol, smoking, sugar, or increasing your sleep, exercise, or healthy eating, getting step-by-step accountability, tools, and support every step of the way is your ticket to success.
Your doctor or counselor may fill this role. Or perhaps your personal trainer or athletic coach. If you need a “lifestyle coach” there are many types of holistic health coaches, nutrition coaches, all sorts of people available (now at the click of a button) to help you succeed and make positive lifestyle choices stick.
It is also extremely valuable to have someone there on the not-so-good days. We all have ups, and downs, and the occasional bump in the road (or the road is entirely blocked). It can help to get some perspective, and comprise the toolbox of resources you need to cope and work through the rough spots.
Your toolbox for tough spots is highly individualized. When those cloudy days come, do you have a supportive person to talk to? Do you have activities, hobbies, and self-care ideas at your fingertips? Are you intentionally creating the environment around you to minimize triggers and maximize successful habit changes? A lot can to into your toolbox, and I suggest you have as many resources in it as possible.
Check out that chapter in my book I mentioned above if you want to read more about how I work through the process of positive lifestyle changes with my patients. It takes creativity, adaptability, and an individualized approach to match you up with who and what you need as you go through your journey.
I wish you the best on your path towards ever-improving health,