How to Prevent Unhealthy Habits in Recovery | Dangers and Preventions (2023)

Learn about what causes bad habits during addiction recovery and how to stop unhealthy habits from developing.

During addiction recovery, people are at a higher risk of developing unhealthy habits. Addiction is often used as a way ofcopingwith stress. Even if drugs and alcohol are not initially used as a way of coping with stress, addictive substances may become familiar or comforting to use, causing them to become a way of coping with stress.

When someone stops using anaddictive substance, they will no longer have the ability to turn to that substance to cope with stress and will develop other coping mechanisms. These coping mechanisms can include healthy ways of coping, but can also result in unhealthy coping techniques.

Unhealthy Habits in Recovery

There are several unhealthy habits that people may pick up during or following a drugaddiction recovery. These habits are related to finding new ways to cope that replace the initial addiction.

Exercise Addiction

Exercise is a healthy coping mechanism and can be an important and valuable tool in the addiction recovery process. Exercise can also promote a healthy lifestyle and lead to overall improvements inhealth and wellness. While exercise has its benefits, some people who are recovering from addiction may becomeoverly obsessedwith exercising to an unhealthy degree and develop anexercise addiction. This addiction can result in harm to muscles and bones and malnutrition. It may also interfere with one’s social life or work life.

Eating Disorders

Those recovering from addiction may develop unhealthy eating habits, such as overeating or undereating. Overeating results when someone uses food to cope with stress, especially foods that are considered “comfort foods.” Someone who is eating because they feel an emotional need to do so instead of hunger may have developed abinge eating disorder. On the other end of the spectrum, people who are overcoming addiction may develop eating disorders such asanorexia, where they develop the false idea that they need to eat less.

Eating disorderscan become dangerous, and those who have one should seek immediate medical care. Signs that you are developing an eating disorder may include skipping meals, believing that you are overweight — even when others tell you that you are too thin — deliberately vomiting after a meal or avoiding food altogether.

Anxiety Disorders

Those who don’t find new ways of coping with stress in recovery may develop ananxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders may occur because the coping mechanism of using substances is no longer available, and without a new coping mechanism, anxiety is more likely to be experienced. While some feeling of anxiety or agitation is not uncommon during the recovery process, those who have severe anxiety or continue to have anxiety on a long-term basis after becoming sober may have developed an anxiety disorder.

Smoking Cigarettes

Many people tend to view smoking cigarettes as simply a bad habit. Unfortunately, what many refer to as a smoking habit is actually a nicotine addiction. This addiction is more commonly accepted in society, and many do not stop to consider that it is truly an addiction. When someone is recovering from substance addiction, they may come to rely more heavily on their nicotine addiction to help them cope with stressors. The best way to avoid developing an increased dependence on smoking during recovery is to considerquitting smoking in recovery. Recovery programs will be supportive of this decision, and much of what a recovery program covers can be applied to smoking.

Bad Habit vs. Addiction

Many people wonder what the difference is between a bad habit and a true addiction. Typically, a bad habit is a normal or reflexive response to stress, while an addiction is a craving that is viewed as necessary and is difficult to stop. Someone who has an addiction as opposed to a bad habit will usually find that:

  • The behavior is having a negative impact on their life
  • Stopping the behavior leads to cravings or withdrawal symptoms
  • They have tried to hide the behavior from others
  • They have tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to stop the behavior
  • The behavior puts them in risky situations

If you find that one or more of these is true about your bad habit, then it is likely that this bad habit is actually an addiction.

What Causes Unhealthy Habits in Addiction Recovery?

Drug addiction recovery involves stopping a comfortable and reflexive behavior. This behavior is normally comforting, as it is familiar and something that is relied on during stressful times. While this behavior is harmful, it does provide comfort, relaxation and escape. One important goal during recovery is to replace this behavior with other, healthier ways of coping.

One of the first stresses that will occur is during early recovery, as the ability to use the substance that brought comfort is withdrawn. During this crucial step, learning healthy ways to cope without the substance is absolutely necessary. It is at this stage that unhealthy habits can begin to develop if other coping mechanisms are not learned.

Dangers of Bad Habits in Addiction Recovery

During addiction recovery, bad habits develop as a way of coping with stress. When these bad habits replace an addiction as a way to cope with stress, getting rid of these bad habits can also cause an increased risk ofrelapse. This leads to a situation where bad habits will be harmful, but avoiding these habits could lead to a relapse in addictive behaviors. This cycle can lead to an increased risk ofdepressionin early recovery, increased risk of long-term unhealthy habits and increased risk of relapse.

Preventing Bad Habits from Derailing Your Addiction Recovery

Preventing bad habits requires an understanding that these habits develop as a new way of coping with stress. The key to avoiding these bad habits during drug and alcohol addiction recovery is to focus on developing healthy ways of coping before other unhealthy habits set in. This is why having a relapse prevention plan is often stressed as a vital part of the recovery process.

Seek Treatment for Co-Occurring Disorders

Seeking dual diagnosis treatment isimportantfor those who have an existing mental health condition in addition to a substance addiction. Undergoing integrated treatment forco-occurring disorderswill decrease the stressors that may lead to the development of an unhealthy habit.

Practice Mindfulness in Recovery

Practicing mindfulnessduring recovery can be an excellent coping mechanism that helps toreducethe risk of developing an unhealthy way of coping. Amindful recoverycan involve meditation, relaxation, memorizing inspiring addiction recovery quotes, developing a mantra or any other method of centering yourself in the present moment.

Seek Support

One way to avoid developing unhealthy ways of coping is to learn to cope with stress using thesupportof others. This is why peer support is emphasized in the addiction recovery process and why recoverysupport groupsand systems are helpful in maintaining sobriety.

Replace Bad Habits with Good Habits

If you have developed a bad habit during addiction recovery, it is not enough to simply replace a bad habit. Someone wishing to get rid of an unhealthy habit must focus on replacing bad habits with healthy ones. By replacing bad habits with good habits, you can develop the tools to cope with stress in life while avoiding the negative effects that bad habits can cause.

If you or a loved one struggle with addiction, realize that recovery is possible. The Recovery Village has a strong track record of providing those with addiction the resources needed to experience a full recovery.Reach outto one of our understanding team members today to learn how you can start on your path to recovery.

How to Prevent Unhealthy Habits in Recovery | Dangers and Preventions (1)

Editor – Megan Hull

Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more

How to Prevent Unhealthy Habits in Recovery | Dangers and Preventions (2)

Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN

Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more

Recovery Wellness related topics:


Recovery WellnessWhat Is Habit Reversal Training?Cultivating Patience in RecoveryGoal Setting in Addiction RecoveryBenefits of Spirituality in RecoveryHow to Forgive Yourself in RecoveryAntidepressants in Addiction RecoveryExploring the Role of Good Nutrition in Addiction RecoveryCultivating Gratitude in Recovery

All Related Topics


Stubblefield, Heaven. “Exercise Addiction.” Healthline Media, June 29, 2016. Accessed July 25, 2019.

National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Dual Diagnosis.” Aug. 2017. Accessed July 25, 2019. “Getting Started with Mindfulness.” 2019. Accessed July 25, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.


How do you break bad habits in recovery? ›

Break Bad Habits
  1. Avoid tempting situations.
  2. Replace unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones.
  3. Prepare mentally.
  4. Enlist support.
  5. Reward yourself for small steps.

What are the 7 steps to breaking a habit? ›

Improve Yourself: 7 Simple Steps to Break Bad Habits
  • Be Honest with Yourself. ...
  • Figure Out the “Why” ...
  • Set Goals and Create a Plan. ...
  • Write Those Goals Down. ...
  • Tell a Friend About Your Goals. ...
  • Give Yourself Some Time. ...
  • Don't Give Up on Yourself.

What are the 5 steps of recovery? ›

What Are the Five Stages of Change? The five stages of addiction recovery are precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance. Read on to find out more about the various stages.

What is the best way to prevent relapse? ›

Deni Carise, has put together this five-step plan to keep you or your loved one in recovery and help prevent a relapse.
  1. Stay Active in Your Recovery Network. ...
  2. Be Aware of Your Personal Triggers. ...
  3. Take Good Care of Yourself Physically. ...
  4. Practice the Art of Letting Go. ...
  5. Find a Higher Purpose to Live for.

How do you build good habits and break bad ones? ›

1. Make it about your identity
  1. Create an optimal environment for your personality to facilitate good habits. ...
  2. Consider the compounding effect of good (and bad) habits. ...
  3. Choose the best solution to the problem. ...
  4. See distractions for what they are. ...
  5. Incorporate the laws of behaviour change. ...
  6. Put systems ahead of goals.
Oct 23, 2018

What are the three steps to break a bad habit? ›

3 Easy Steps to Breaking Bad Habits
  • Step No.1: Make It Conscious.
  • Step No. 2: Put It in Writing So It Really Sinks In.
  • Step No. 3: Bait and Switch.
Nov 16, 2007

What are the 4 keys to habit? ›

The process of building a habit can be divided into four simple steps: cue, craving, response, and reward.

What is the golden rule of habits? ›

The Golden Rule of Habit Change says that the most effective way to shift a habit is to diagnose and retain the old cue and reward, and try to change only the routine.

What are the 4 P's of recovery? ›

For effective recovery that is built to last, the individual's life must be constructed upon a social foundation of “people, place, and purpose”—what he calls the “3 Ps.” 1 To this, I add a fourth P: perseverance.

What are the 3 R's of recovery? ›

After exercise there are a few things you can do to recover quicker and eliminate soreness, such as massaging your muscles with the foam roller, practicing yoga, and light stretching. Whenever your body needs a break, just remember The Three R's, replenish, rest and recover.

What are the three P's of recovery? ›

The three P's of recovery include patience, persistence, and perseverance. These three attributes are imperative to a successful journey to sobriety and stability. There are plenty of reasons that the three P's of recovery are imperative to the overall success of a recovery experience.

What behaviors prevent relapse? ›

A person who can execute effective coping strategies (e.g. a behavioural strategy, such as leaving the situation, or a cognitive strategy, such as positive self-talk) is less likely to relapse compared with a person lacking those skills.

What is a relapse prevention plan? ›

What is a relapse prevention plan? A relapse prevention plan is a personalized tool for recovery. It's designed to help you understand yourself, your triggers, and your support system.

What are three high risk factors for relapse? ›

The process of recovery (and relapse) is often influenced by several relapse risk factors, including: The severity and consequences of addiction; Co-occurring mental or medical conditions; and. The individuals coping skills, motivation, and support system.

What is relapse to bad habits? ›

Relapses can occur for a number of different reasons, but in most cases, it means that the person reverts back to the old habit of substance misuse instead of using healthier new coping mechanisms when faced with a challenging event or emotion.

How long does it take to recover from a bad habit? ›

How long does it take to break a habit? Since the brain doesn't distinguish between good and bad habits, and it's difficult for the brain to unlearn them, it can take an average of 30 to 60 days to actually break a habit, according to Shelton. That's why consistency is key when trying to reach a desired goal.

What are the behaviors of a recovering alcoholic? ›

Struggling to make decisions. Having mood swings, trouble with expressing emotions, feeling unsatisfied. Feeling detached, self-absorbed, bored, distracted, or disorganized.

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