Professor of addictions offers tips for kicking bad habits as New Year's resolutions
You've vowed that 2008 will finally be the year that you pass up the between-meal snacks and that second helping of dessert, the before-breakfast and after-dinner smokes, or the two daily cans of beer -- habits you once enjoyed, but now want to eliminate.
But don't even think about trying to keep your New Year's resolution alone, says Dr. James Quinn, director of the University of North Texas' addictions degree program in the Department of Rehabilitation, Social Work and Addictions.
Quinn says that if you're fighting a serious addiction to drugs or alcohol or want to recover from anorexia, bulimia or another eating disorder, see a counselor or doctor specializing in treatment of these disorders, which can be life threatening. The counselor or doctor will help you understand why you should eliminate the addiction from your life and discuss pharmaceuticals that may help, he says.
If it's a problem with alcohol, consider whether you need to not drink at all or can control your drinking, Quinn says.
"Ask the people close to you to find out what you should do. Look for signs of loss of control. If you try to cut down and can't, you probably need to quit altogether," he says.
To kick other bad habits, Quinn says, "get social support for what you are trying to do."
"Stay away from smokers. Stay away from people stuffing food in your face. Get with people who will be supportive," he says.
He offers these other tips:
- Reduce your stress. "Stress will send you back to any addiction -- from heroin to food," he says. "Be especially careful to avoid overscheduling yourself and your family."
- Figure out what purpose the addictions serve in your life. Then find alternatives to accomplish these goals as you quit. If you automatically pour yourself a glass of beer or wine to relieve stress, try exercising or meditating or praying instead, he says.
Quinn recommends engaging in cardiovascular exercise for at least 20 minutes a minimum of two to three times a week. He recommends exercising in the afternoon or evening to burn off stress or in the morning to combat depression.
"Exercise is going to make your brain work better, which means you are thinking instead of acting impulsively," he says.
- Talk to your doctor about alternative therapies to help your kick your habit, such as hypnotherapy for smoking.
- Consider neurofeedback or biofeedback. This relaxation response is a way of teaching the calm, peaceful brain to take power over the emotional, impulsive brain, Quinn says.
- If you relapse, just vow to quit again, Quinn says.
"You have to take it as a learning experience," he says. "Relapse tells you what you failed to account for -- maybe you put yourself in a situation of temptation, or maybe you let your stress build up."