How Long Does It Take to Change a Habit?

Research shows that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to change a habit.

Drinking and using drugs are habits for people that suffer from substance use disorders. We reach for a drink or a drug when we’re happy or when we’re sad, we look forward to using, and we suffer from withdrawal when we go a few days without.

Recovery takes time because changing a habit takes time. People often tell me that they went to one AA meeting and report back, “I tried AA and it didn’t work for me.” Or they go to a hospital detox for a weekend and are surprised that they’re drinking again by midweek.

Doing one thing once is not going to work.

To really change a behavior, you need to make a commitment and take action every single day. No one gets sober in a day, but you can commit to making a beginning any day you want. Taking action every day is what changes behavior. Making a conscious choice to get sober, and then backing that up with a plan for sober activities every day, is what works.

In early sobriety, a motivated person might choose to go to two or three Twelve Step meetings every day: one in the morning when they wake up, another in the afternoon, and a final meeting in the evening. This person has a high likelihood of success. They’re taking the time to commit to sobriety and they’re doing the work every day. After a month or two of continuous sobriety, they may walk their meeting schedule back.

When I recommend that someone do two or three things a day for their recovery, they often tell me that they don’t have the time. They are unwilling to make the commitment that would guarantee them success. I have seen, over and over again, that if someone in early sobriety wants to take the easy way out – maybe attending one meeting a week — they have a very small chance of success. Someone that drinks heavily may drink every day and they may drink for five or six hours a day – and that person tells me that they don’t have time to attend a few meetings. By staying sober, though, they stand to gain twenty, thirty, forty hours a week.

When someone tells me that AA doesn’t work for them, I wonder how many meetings they went to. I wonder if they spoke to anyone when they were there, or if they stayed after the meeting ended and met a few new people. Many people’s first opinion of AA is, “I don’t have anything in common with those people.” I’m always surprised by this assumption because members of AA share many things, most importantly a common past – we all drank and partied hard – and a common purpose, staying sober for the future. Only someone who has abused drugs and alcohol as we have can understand and laugh with our stories.

I have twelve years sober. I maintain my sobriety by attending Twelve Step meetings. Over the years of attending meetings, I’ve made so many friends that, at this point, most of my close friends are actually Twelve Step friends. We share a common bond, a common goal, and we’ve grown up together. I’ve seen their lives change and grow, and they’ve seen the same for me; we’ve shared good time and bad times over the years. When you attend Twelve Step meetings for a long time, they become your social network.

To recover from an addiction, to change that habit, you need to take several actions every day. One of those actions can be going to a Twelve Step meeting. Going to a meeting every day will help keep you accountable; if you have a meeting on your schedule at 7:30 AM, you’re much less likely to drink the night before. And If you attend the same meeting several times, you’ll meet new people, further reinforcing your commitment to sobriety. If you know you’ll see Joe at the Wednesday night meeting, you’re less likely to drink on Tuesday.

Adam Banks is a certified interventionist and recovery coach at Suntra Modern Recovery.  He received an MBA from the University of Chicago and built a company, which United Health Care acquired. He learned his rigor and attention to detail from his career as an airline pilot, holding an ATP, the FAA’s highest license.

Today Adam is dedicated to working with individuals that want to change their relationship to drinking.  Adam Banks is often called by families to help untangle crisis situations through a loving and inclusive approach to interventions.  Adam often engages in coaching executives, pilots, and physicians in recovery.

Suntra Modern Recovery provides medical treatment for alcohol and opiate addictions via video visit with medical doctors. Suntra’s alcohol and drug intervention services are available locally in New York, Long Island, the Hamptons as well as nationally and internationally. Treatment for alcohol, opiate and heroin addiction, including Suboxone treatment, can start today.

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