Edited on October 7th, 2020
If it only takes 21 days to break a habit, then you would think kicking your drug or alcohol habit would be easier. In truth, the whole “kick your habit in 21 days” mantra is actually very misleading and when you apply it to substance use disorders, it can do more harm than good.
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How Long Does it Take to Form New Habits?
In this day and age, self-improvement is all the rage and the frequently touted idea that a bad habit can be broken in just 21 days is an encouraging thought for many people. Reversing a habit in such a short amount of time (just three weeks!) makes any feat seem possible. You could start working out regularly, stick to a plant-based diet, or even kick that tobacco habit you picked up years ago. However, researchers recently found that it actually takes much longer to break a habit than we originally thought.
The concept that a new habit can be formed in about 21 days originated from Dr. Maxwell Maltz’s self-help book Psycho-Cybernetics, which was first published in 1960.1 Dr. Maltz (a plastic surgeon) observed that it generally took his patients about 21 days to adjust to their new physical features. He then began to observe his own personal adjustments and wrote in his book that it generally required a minimum of 21 days to fully adjust to a major life change such as functioning with an amputated limb or adopting a new diet or a healthier habit.
Unfortunately, things aren’t so cut and dry. In a more recent study, which was published in 2009, researchers from University College London found that the average time it takes for a new habit to stick is 66 days, which is about three times as long as Dr. Maltz reported in his observations. It’s also important to note that the study also found wide variations from person to person, and adopting a new habit often took anywhere from 18 to 254 days.2
If you’re trying to break a bad habit, this news may be a bit of a downer, but in truth, the key to breaking any bad habit is having the right mix of motivation, support, behavioral changes, and circumstances.
How Many Days Does it Take to Break an Addiction?
Addiction is a very complex and individualized medical disorder but research indicates that most people need at least 90 days in treatment to experience significant and lasting outcomes.3 Medical detox, which is often the first phase of addiction treatment, only breaks a person’s physical addiction to a substance but it does not address psychological addiction, behavioral issues, and mental health problems. The detox process can take anywhere from five to seven days, but it’s impossible to say exactly how long it will take because the severity and duration of withdrawal vary greatly from person to person.
The amount of time it takes to break an addiction is highly dependent on the person, his or her specific substance abuse problems, and his or her treatment needs. People also progress through recovery programs at varying speeds so it is impossible to determine a specific duration of time in treatment that will work for everyone.
Addiction Recovery: More Than Just Breaking Bad Habits
Although your alcohol or drug abuse may seem like it’s just a bad habit, overcoming a substance use disorder is much more than just breaking a bad habit. While it’s true that part of the recovery process involves developing new, healthier habits and behaviors, addiction is a chronic disease that requires more thorough treatment.4
Addiction is an illness that affects the body, mind, soul. It often affects a person’s livelihood too. Generally, it is intertwined with other issues like mental illness, low self-esteem, financial problems, homelessness, criminal behavior, broken relationships, and more. As a result, addiction recovery is a complex process that can’t be oversimplified into a magical 66-day treatment program. In short, there is no easy fix or simple cure for addiction.
Instead, a thorough and comprehensive treatment approach is necessary to overcome any substance use disorder. This often includes some or all of the following treatment components:5
- Adequate intake, processing, and assessment
- A fluid treatment plan
- Behavioral therapy and counseling
- Substance use monitoring
- Pharmacotherapy medications
- Clinical and case management
- Self-help/peer support groups
- Continuing care
The following services may also help individuals overcome addiction and re-integrate back into society after treatment:5
- Mental health services
- Medical services
- Vocational services
- Housing/transportation services
- Family services and childcare
- Financial services
- Legal services
- AIDS/HIV services
- Educational services
Sobriety Tools for a Successful Recovery
Relapse is sometimes a part of the recovery process but it’s important to view it as a temporary setback instead of complete failure. Similarly, if you’re trying to make healthier eating choices, just because you caved and had a piece of chocolate cake doesn’t mean you can’t continue to improve by making more health-conscious choices at your next meal. Instead of giving up entirely, you can use the experience as an opportunity to re-evaluate your lifestyle, behaviors, and triggers, and make changes that will help you succeed.
If you happen to relapse after detox, there are recovery tools, support, and aftercare treatment programs available that can help you get back on track. Examples include:
- Inpatient or outpatient rehab: After detox, rehab is an important next step that will help you reach your sobriety goals by teaching you how to implement healthier habits and behaviors.
- Sober living: A sober living program provides safe, substance-free housing and peer accountability to help you adjust to a sober life outside of a structured rehab program. It also offers additional recovery services like employment assistance, educational planning, and volunteer placement.
- Peer monitoring: A peer monitoring program pairs you with a sober mentor and partner who offers support and guidance as you navigate the ups and downs of early sobriety. He or she will also help you learn how to recognize triggers and warning signs of relapse before it occurs and take action.
Community recovery groups: 12-Step fellowships and other community groups are extremely beneficial for people in recovery because they provide ongoing support, social connection, and opportunities to give back in all stages of recovery.
What Are Common Addiction Treatment Barriers?
There are many barriers that keep people from getting the treatment they need. Depending on the person, their stage of life, and their unique circumstances, getting treatment for addiction could mean choosing between a job and recovery or choosing between personal well-being and the well-being of an entire family.
One study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment found that problem drinkers and drug abusers identified the following types of barriers as being the most powerful:6
- Fear of treatment/bad treatment experiences
- A need to conceal drug abuse from a spouse
- Privacy concerns
- The belief that treatment was unnecessary or not beneficial
- Practical and economic issues
Specifically, many individuals may not ask for help because of the following reasons:
- Pride and shame – The need to conceal drug and alcohol abuse from spouses, friends, and co-workers is often based on pride or shame, as a person may not want someone to know that they need help or may be too embarrassed to admit they have a problem.
- Lack of childcare – If a mother is suffering from addiction but does not have access or the means to get childcare for her children, she will be much less likely to enroll in a drug and alcohol detox program and rehab that would require her to be away from home for any amount of time.
- Fear of losing a job – Some individuals may be worried about losing their job or status at work if their employer were to find out that they were seeking treatment for addiction.
- Financial stress – Enrolling in a detox center or rehab program costs money. Therefore, financial stress may cause a person to feel like they don’t have the financial means to enroll in treatment, even if they were to utilize their health insurance benefits.
- Limited access to treatment centers – If an individual lives in an area of the country with limited resources, such as a very rural area, he or she will be much less likely to get the help they need simply because it is not available. In addition, it takes time and resources to travel to a different location for treatment, and this may not always be possible.
What Are Examples of Productive Ways to Ask for Help?
Despite the treatment barriers some people face, there are many solutions that can clear away a path to recovery. It all starts with asking for help. For many people, this is the hardest part. It requires courage, determination, and humility to admit you have a substance abuse problem and need help, but it’s also the first step in a life-changing journey that can provide healing, peace, and personal fulfillment.
If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance abuse disorder, here are five simple and effective ways to ask for help.
- Talk to a close family member or friend.
If you know that you need help but you don’t know where to start, find a trusted friend or family member and confide in them. Be completely open and honest and let them know that you’re struggling to control your drug or alcohol usage habits. You may be surprised to find that some of your family members or friends have been down the same road and understand completely. A friend or family member who has been through drug detox and rehab will be able to help lead you in the next steps.
- Ask someone to help you research drug detox centers.
You may not feel comfortable sharing your deepest struggle with a friend or family member, and that’s okay. Instead, just ask a trusted person to help you do some research online to find a reputable drug detox center. This way, you don’t have to share everything if you don’t feel comfortable. You can just let the person know you’re looking to make a change and would like some assistance.
- Ask your doctor for a treatment referral.
If your doctor is not already aware of your drug and alcohol addiction, he or she is a safe person to discuss these issues with. If you are unsure if your doctor is willing to discuss the issue with you, simply ask if he or she is willing to talk to you about addiction treatment options. If not, ask for a referral to another doctor who is.7 This is a great way to learn about reputable treatment centers and programs in your area.
- Write a letter to someone you trust.
Sometimes it’s very difficult to verbally talk to family members, friends, and even doctors about your struggle with addiction. In this case, it may be easier for you to write a letter. Taking the time to write down your personal struggles and needs is also a great opportunity to reflect on personal issues that you’d like to resolve in treatment and may even bring some things to light that you hadn’t yet acknowledged.
- Call an addiction treatment facility.
If you feel like you’re ready to talk to an addiction treatment specialist or possibly enroll in a drug and alcohol detox program, calling an addiction treatment facility is a great place to start. Admissions specialists at these facilities are trained to handle calls like these and are patient, compassionate, and caring. They can help you determine a course of action, verify your insurance benefits or provide information about other payment options, and complete the enrollment process all in one phone call.
Once you’ve asked for help, the hardest part is over. The next logical step for most people is to enroll in a drug and alcohol detox program. Most individuals need to complete drug detox before they can enter a rehab facility. This process simply rids the body of harmful chemicals and toxins from repeated drug and alcohol abuse and prepares the mind, body, and spirit for rehab.
Before enrolling in a program at a detox center, you will likely need to complete a screening either over the phone or in person. This will allow the treatment center to accurately assess your needs and determine whether or not their program is a good fit for you. If it is, a high-quality detox center will have the ability to complete your enrollment that day and begin detox immediately. If they do not, you may want to consider another option.
Medically supervised drug and alcohol detox provides medical care and assistance 24/7 so you can feel safe and secure all throughout your detox process. Many facilities, such as Briarwood Detox Center, are also designed to make you feel right at home, with private or semi-private rooms, chef-prepared meals, and comfortable living spaces where you can relax and focus on healing.
Achieving a full recovery from addiction is much more than just breaking a bad habit. Although correcting harmful habits and lifestyles is an important aspect of addiction recovery, medical detox is just the beginning of the recovery process that requires ongoing commitment and maintenance.
If you are ready to detox and start a new life in recovery, the professionals at Briarwood Detox Center are available to help you. Our drug and alcohol detox programs are individually designed to meet your needs and our staff can help you continue your recovery journey after detox is over. Call (832) 850-4318 today to get started.