Drug addiction—formally called a substance use disorder—is a complex and chronic medical condition. However, the good news is that it is treatable. With the proper steps taken, you can overcome your drug problem, stop drug use, and manage your symptoms of addiction successfully.
However, stopping drug use, and further breaking the addiction cycle, is not always easy. This is because of the way drugs affect our bodies and brains.
Why Is It Difficult to Stop Using Drugs?
As described by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), drugs are chemicals that have the ability to make lasting changes within our brain structure. When drugs are used, they overstimulate the brain’s “reward system,” mimicking its natural neurotransmitters and releasing a significant feeling of euphoria. This “high” is what keeps a user coming back for more drugs. As drug use increases, however, it changes the way the brain functions and communicates with the body. Drugs soon make it hard for a person to enjoy any other activities, and cause a user to continuously crave drugs and alcohol. With repeated drug use, a person becomes dependent on drugs to function or simply to feel “okay.”
These changes are neurological. Drugs change the brain’s wiring and chemical make-up. While a person may choose to use drugs initially, it is these changes that cause them to keep going back for more. This makes it extremely difficult for a person to stop using drugs on their own.
This is just the beginning. Not only do drugs create dependency, but they also weaken the circuits in the brain that are dedicated to self-control. When a person’s brain becomes dependent on drugs, it becomes difficult for them to control their impulses and cravings. They will continue to use drugs even when they know it’s causing harm, putting them at risk, getting in the way of their relationships, and doesn’t feel as good as it used to. A user may even want to quit, but cannot control their drug use.
When this happens, it signals a drug addiction (i.e. substance use disorder). So, how does one break the cycle? Can you stop using drugs before it gets to this point?
What to Consider Before You Stop Using Drugs
It is possible to stop using drugs once you’ve started, but if you or a loved one has become a regular drug user, it’s important to do so with professional support. Suddenly quitting drugs on your own can be dangerous. It can cause your body to go into a state of withdrawal, which may trigger mental health problems, flu-like symptoms, or even life-threatening emergencies. Learn about the risks here.
If you’ve developed the symptoms of addiction, and experience withdrawal when you are not using drugs, we recommend professional detoxification and treatment. This will ensure you stay safe and stable in the early recovery process.
Do not be afraid to reach out for help. If you do not know where to start, you may consider:
- Speaking with your doctor. Your doctor can evaluate your health, mentally and physically, and refer to you a detoxification program and/or substance use treatment.
- Talking to your family and friends about your drug use. Although they are not professionals, they can help you explore potential options for professional treatment. They can also be your allies and advocates as you start the recovery process.
- Calling a reputable drug treatment center, like Turnbridge, for support and advice. We will speak with you confidentially, without bias, and help you decide what course of action is best for you.
How to Stop Doing Drugs in 7 Steps
Now, if you’re ready to stop drug use once and for all, we are here to help get you started. Below is our seven-step guide to overcoming drug use and stopping drug addiction in its tracks.
- Set goals.
If you are here, you’ve already recognized that you need to change your current habits. This is sometimes the hardest step of all—realizing you need help. Now that you’re at this point, take time to think about what you’d like to change. What would you like to accomplish? What is your drug use getting in the way of, that you’d like to enjoy again? This could be doing well in school, finding a job, rebuilding a relationship, or establishing an exercise routine. Think about what’s important to you and what will give you purpose. Set short-term and long-term goals, and make sure they are attainable and measurable. Write down your goals for recovery and make sure they are visible to you, every day.
Short-term goals might include:
- I will call my doctor this week.
- I will join a support group this month.
- I will journal for 30 minutes, every night.
- I will exercise three times per week.
- I will call my mother and apologize.
- I will be drug free for two weeks.
Long-term goals might be:
- I will enroll in, and complete, a residential drug rehab program.
- I will apply to colleges.
- I will land a great job.
- I will build friendships that support my sobriety.
- I will rebuild trust with my parents.
- I will be drug free for one year.
- I will help others in need by volunteering this year.
Think about what will motivate you to succeed, and write down your goals as though you are planning for the future. This will be key to sustaining your sobriety long-term.
- Change your environment.
Sometimes, an environment can hold someone back from stopping their drug use completely. Think about your current situation. Do you feel that the people around you will support your decision to stop using drugs? Will the people closest to you take steps to reduce the influence of drugs and alcohol in their lives? Will you feel comfortable in, and motivated by, your current living environment? Are there reminders of your drug use in your home, neighborhood, or everyday activities?
Sometimes, reminders of drug use are embedded in where you live and what you do. And it is these reminders that can trigger a craving and cause you to want to use drugs. These “triggers” can also be people – people who you used drugs with, or that might pressure you to use drugs again. If you are trying to stop doing drugs, think about what (or who) in your current environment might be holding you back. Try to remove those from your environment.
If you cannot change your environment, or set up a space for success, you may consider a residential drug rehab program. Many people choose residential treatment because it offers them a safe, comfortable, and inspiring environment where they can truly heal. Residential treatment centers are set away from the pressures and circumstances of daily life. They allow you to focus on your health and wellbeing. They are not hospitalized environments, but rather, equipped with therapeutic activities (think: yoga, art workshops, music, libraries) as well as staff who are available 24/7 to support you.
Learn more about the benefits of residential treatment here.
- Seek third-party support.
Once you’ve committed to a drug-free life, the next step will be to build a support system that you trust. Addiction recovery can be difficult at times, but having a support system to lean on can make all the difference. We recommend building this sober support network in a few different ways:
- Enroll in a drug treatment program. The professional support and counseling you will receive in a treatment program is perhaps the best asset in your recovery toolkit. Professional treatment programs are equipped with clinicians, therapists, and support staff who can help you overcome your drug addiction and stop drug use long-term. They are trained and experienced in reducing drug cravings, rebuilding your mental and physical health, and giving you the skills to succeed.
- Ask for help from family and friends. Think about who in your life will most encourage your sobriety, and who will be there to pick up the phone when you call. If you don’t have anywhere to turn, then consider leaning on a counselor who can support you in times of need.
- Make sober connections through support groups, 12-step meetings, and your treatment program. Your sober peers and mentors will understand what you are going through, and will be there to talk you down from drug cravings, or help you overcome any challenges along the way.
There are various types of drug treatment programs available, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. The right program for you will be one that’s customized to meet your individual needs, that takes into consideration your prior attempts at quitting, and that helps you build a plan for the future. You can learn more about what to look for in a drug rehab center here.
- Identify and avoid your triggers.
In a treatment program, you will learn about your “relapse triggers.” As suggested above, these are (sometimes subtle) reminders of your drug use that can stimulate drug cravings and relapse. This may be rolling papers in your bedroom, a drug-using friend circle at school, a bottle of booze stashed away in your drawer, a house where you used to party, or even a stressful relationship with someone you love. Relapse triggers can also be emotions—stress, anger, sadness—that cause you to crave drugs.
In order to truly get and stay sober, it’s important to know what triggers you. Only then can you take steps to avoid those triggers or learn to cope with them. This brings us to the next step in stopping drug use…
- Learn healthy ways to cope.
Identifying your triggers is just part of the process, but learning how to cope with triggers that arise will be an even greater accomplishment. A therapist or counselor can help you develop healthy coping skills that you will use throughout your recovery. Coping skills are different for everyone, but might include:
- Meditation and mindfulness
- Attending a support group or therapy session, to “talk it out”
- Exercise, even as simple as taking a walk outside
- Music or art
The goal of treatment is to teach you how to cope with stress, difficult emotions, and other circumstances that might trigger you to use drugs. Coping means finding alternative ways of dealing with those struggles, rather than turning to drugs and alcohol. Behavioral therapy is one of the best ways to learn healthy coping skills in addiction recovery.
- Find purpose and meaning in life.
Building a meaningful life is one of the best ways to sustain your sobriety, and is one of the biggest motivators in the recovery process. Early on, we talked about creating goals for the future. Beyond stopping your drug use, this might have included finishing school or rebuilding broken relationships. Your goals may have been around improving your mental and physical health. No matter what they are, your goals can help give you purpose and drive what you do next.
Rather than spending time thinking about drugs and alcohol, take time to fill your days with activities that give you purpose. What can you do to help support your future plans? For example, you might find meaning in healthy activities such as:
- Going hiking, or simply getting outside daily
- Getting involved in your community
- Picking up a new hobby, or an activity you used to enjoy
- Joining a local gym
- Participating in weekly yoga sessions
- Taking online classes or tutoring
- Prioritizing time for adequate sleep
- Cooking healthy meals
- Spending time with family and friends who support you
- Participating in ongoing support groups and therapy
- Continue care after treatment.
It is easy to think that once you’ve completed drug treatment, you have overcome your addiction. The truth is, you have overcome some of the most difficult parts of addiction recovery—but this is a journey. Drug addiction is a chronic disorder, and requires a long-term commitment. It is manageable, but continued commitment and therapy is always recommended.
By continuing your care through support groups, outpatient therapy, and 12-step meetings (or similar), you will be best equipped to stop drug addiction for good. These ongoing sessions can ensure that you keep focus on your goals and on your sobriety, and hold you accountable for living a drug-free life. Research outpatient programs and support groups near you. Your treatment program may also connect you with continuing care options in your area.
Contact Turnbridge to Stop Using Drugs Today
Learning how to stop doing drugs is a great step towards getting the help you need. If you would like to learn more about overcoming drug addiction, and stopping drug use for good, do not hesitate to reach out to Turnbridge for support. You may contact us at 877-581-1793 to learn more about our programs.