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 of coping with 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 an addictive 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 drug addiction 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 in health and wellness. While exercise has its benefits, some people who are recovering from addiction may become overly obsessed with exercising to an unhealthy degree and develop an exercise 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 a binge eating disorder. On the other end of the spectrum, people who are overcoming addiction may develop eating disorders such as anorexia, where they develop the false idea that they need to eat less.

Eating disorders can 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 an anxiety 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 consider quitting 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 of relapse. 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 of depression in 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 is important for those who have an existing mental health condition in addition to a substance addiction. Undergoing integrated treatment for co-occurring disorders will decrease the stressors that may lead to the development of an unhealthy habit.

Practice Mindfulness in Recovery

Practicing mindfulness during recovery can be an excellent coping mechanism that helps to reduce the risk of developing an unhealthy way of coping. A mindful recovery can 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 the support of others. This is why peer support is emphasized in the addiction recovery process and why recovery support groups and 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 out to one of our understanding team members today to learn how you can start on your path to recovery.

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

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.

Mindful.org. “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.