Building new habits are important in all stages of recovery from alcohol use disorder. Many of us drink as a means to cope—with anxiety, depression, difficult circumstances—so that using alcohol becomes a regular habit for us. In recovery, we learn to replace alcohol with new, healthier coping mechanisms. We achieve this by actively developing new habits, and intentionally engaging in self-care rituals. But what’s the difference between a habit and a ritual?
Habits develop by repetition. We can form habits without realizing it—the actions become rooted in our everyday lives. Rituals are different from habits because they are done with intention, or a specific purpose. Rituals help us break the cycle of using alcohol as a form of self-care. As time goes on, we learn to replace the routine of drinking with healthy practices.
Throughout this article, we’ll show you some examples of healthy self-care rituals you can try to break your drinking habit, as well as how to build your own.
Morning, Day, and Night Rituals
A ritual doesn’t have to be complicated—it’s simply a routine that helps you stay healthy and feel good. Each new ritual you try should have a goal, for example:
- A morning ritual sets the tone for the day.
- A daytime ritual helps maintain balance.
- A nighttime ritual helps us unwind and relax.
Breaking the drinking habit with new rituals
When we drink as a way to make ourselves feel better, our bodies become accustomed to this habit, and a chemical reaction is set off in anticipation of the “reward” we’re used to receiving (relaxation, relief from anxiety, etc.). To break the drinking habit, we must switch out the old routine of reaching for a glass for a new one that will provide a similar reward. The cues to drink don’t go away, and so instead of just white-knuckling it through the cravings we might feel, we switch out the habit of drinking with something else.
These new habits can be simple and immediate, like replacing a can of beer with a can of seltzer, or they can be more complex, like getting into the habit of talking with a therapist about how we are feeling. The drinking habit atrophies, and these new healthy habits will take root and eventually become second nature.
Examples of self-care rituals
Each ritual serves a purpose—even if it doesn’t necessarily seem like it connects to helping us stop drinking, anything that helps us stay healthy and take care of ourselves keeps our sobriety strong.
Here are a few examples of old rituals we used to use, and the new ones we’ve replaced them with. Notice how each of these rituals are made up of separate habits.
How to build your own self-care ritual with healthy habits
Your rituals will be as unique as you are, and they can be as simple or as elaborate as you’d like them to be. Do whatever helps you feel good in a way that supports your physical and/or mental health.
Here are some key things to keep in mind when building your new ritual:
- Start small. The key to developing new habits (and having them stick) is by starting small and repeating them until they become ingrained. So at first, just try one new thing. If that’s just 5 minutes of quiet breathing time in the morning, that is an excellent start!
- Your existing ritual might just need a slight tweak. You don’t always have to completely overhaul your routine, it may just be a matter of making a small change to your current habits. For example, you can try taking a new route home that doesn’t pass by the liquor store or bar, or take a short break to stretch after a work meeting.
- Your new nighttime ritual should include things that make you feel better without alcohol. This will be different for everyone, so try and experiment with different things that help you let go of the day. Incorporate pleasant sensory experiences when trying out new healthy habits before bed: nice scents like lavender and chamomile, herbal teas, soothing sounds, etc.
- Your rituals will grow and change with you. Our rituals in early sobriety will look different as time goes on. We can’t realistically expect to shed all of our bad habits at once. So instead of trying to ditch sugar, caffeine, nicotine, Netflix, social media, etc, all at the same time as quitting drinking, remember that you’ll be able to gradually swap out unhealthy habits for new, constructive healing practices. But it’s important to remember it is a process that takes time.
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Questions to ask yourself
Here are a few questions that can help you get started. Take some time to write out answers to each of these prompts, and you’ll be able to get a better idea of what kind of rituals could help.
- What does my current morning/day/evening look like?
- Where can I incorporate changes in my morning/daytime/evening routines?
- How would I like to feel in the morning/during the day/in the evening?
Making positive changes in recovery
We believe that recovery begins the moment you decide to change your relationship with alcohol. And the way to build the foundation for an alcohol-free lifestyle is through small, realistic changes.
It’s important to address all areas of our lives when building a path to recovery, because addiction touches every facet of our lives. Tempest membership provides members with an in-depth understanding of alcohol use disorder, as well as how to find better ways to cope instead of drinking.
- Our integrated approach to recovery treats the whole person, by addressing the root causes of alcohol use.
- We use a unique combination of tools, teachings, and practices including Integral Recovery, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Cognitive and Dialectical Behavioral Therapies, and peer intervention.
- Our content is based on our own personal experiences—our Peer Coaches, Subject Matter Experts, and our members all helped inform how we designed our program.
- We use the most recent scientific findings in addiction recovery, structured in an intuitive, easy-to-use format.
You can check out these resources for more ideas on creating your own self-care rituals:
- How to build a Sobriety Toolkit: Ways you can incorporate healthier coping mechanisms into your life.
- 15 Self-Care Ideas for Those in Recovery: Some suggestions for quality self-care from the Tempest community.
- 5 Relaxation Exercises to Calm Wrecked Nerves: Different breathing and meditations you can do any time of day.
- So You Want to Quit Drinking. Now What?: Our ultimate guide for starting out an alcohol-free lifestyle.
- Tempest Newsletter. Our emails are full of helpful guides, essays, discounts, and more.
As we’ve said before, start small! If you’re thinking about changing your relationship with alcohol, try incorporating one of the above suggestions into your routine. And if you’d like more support to quit drinking or strengthen your recovery, we’re always here to help.
Tempest is a holistic, evidence-based digital recovery program that helps you stop drinking and feel better. Our yearly membership program offers three plans, designed to help you create your own personal Recovery Roadmap. Through support, community, and a dedicated staff, we’ll teach you how to make small, realistic changes to build a foundation for the kind of life you want.
In a study done in partnership with the University of Buffalo and Syracuse University, Tempest members reported a 50% reduction in their symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder (problematic drinking) and a 25% reduction in the severity of anxiety and depression symptoms.