How to overcome drug addiction

Naomi Carr
Author: Naomi Carr Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

Drug addiction occurs as the result of a physical and mental dependency on a certain substance. Overcoming drug addiction can be challenging, but there are several self-help techniques and professional interventions that can help in the recovery process.

Why is it so hard to overcome drug addiction?


Long-term drug use causes changes in the brain, such as alterations in the levels of certain chemicals and abnormalities in neurological functioning. This can cause a physical dependency on that substance, resulting in withdrawal symptoms when substance use is stopped [1][2].

Withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on the type of drug, frequency and duration of use, and dosage, but can be very unpleasant and even painful. As such, it can be very difficult to end drug use when facing the occurrence of these symptoms [3].

Withdrawal symptoms can include [1][4]:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Stomach pain and other gastrointestinal issues
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Cravings and urges
  • Mood changes, such as irritability, anxiety, and low mood

Emotional distress

It is common for people to use substances as a stress relief or way of managing emotional distress or to escape from certain symptoms associated with underlying mental health conditions. As such, it can be difficult to consider how these emotions and symptoms can be managed without substance use, causing a reluctance to quit [4][5].


Some people who regularly take drugs find that they are often surrounded by other people who regularly use substances or are living in an environment in which drug abuse is a common occurrence. When there is no alternative environment or home to go to, it can make it very difficult to end drug use as triggers and temptations are consistently present [5][6].


Drug use is associated with negative attitudes and stigma, such as stereotypes that drug users are bad people or criminals. Because of this, many people who experience substance use disorders struggle to seek help in overcoming their addictions, due to fear of being stigmatized and judged by others [2].

How to recover from a drug addiction

When attempting to recover from a drug addiction, there are various steps and techniques that can be utilized to aid in the process, such as [1][4][5][6]:

Talking to a professional

It may be advisable to speak with a doctor or specialist when first deciding to reduce or stop drug use. Professionals can provide advice about how best to begin this process, manage withdrawal symptoms, and provide testing or monitoring of physical health.

Additionally, your doctor may be able to provide information about inpatient facilities, support groups, or medicinal treatments that can help in this process.

Forming a support network

Overcoming addiction can feel more manageable with care and support from loved ones. It can be a good idea to inform your family and friends about your decision to stop using addictive substances, so that they can offer you support and encouragement throughout this process.

Similarly, attending support groups with others who have overcome addiction can be beneficial to receive guidance and support.

Setting goals

It can be helpful to set goals or consider motivations for overcoming drug addiction, such as wanting to further your education or career, wanting to spend more time with family and friends, or wanting to improve your physical and mental health. Having a reason to quit and something to aim for can improve success in recovery and be a reminder when urges or cravings occur.

Being prepared

Once you have decided to quit using drugs, it is helpful to remove any tools, reminders, or paraphernalia associated with the drug from your home. Similarly, you may want to let your friends know that you will no longer be using this drug, so they cannot bring it into your home.

You may wish to prepare practical things in your home environment or gather items that will be of help or comfort while experiencing withdrawal symptoms or cravings.

It is also important to be emotionally and mentally prepared. Recovery may be a long and difficult process, so being patient and motivated is fundamental.

Avoiding triggers

It is a good idea to avoid any people or places that are associated with your drug use, especially in the initial stages of recovery when temptations may be difficult to overcome. It might not be possible to always avoid triggers, but by recognizing situations that have prompted drug use in the past you may be more able to manage these triggers.

Managing stress and emotions

Finding new ways to cope with emotional distress can be helpful. This could be by using relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga, exercise, talking with friends, and improving your diet and sleep.

It is common for people with substance use disorders to experience other mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD. You may find it useful to attend therapy to discuss and manage any emotional difficulties, as this may be an underlying cause or contributing factor to your substance use.

Dealing with relapse

It is common for people overcoming drug addiction to experience relapses. It is important not to feel that you have failed when this happens, but instead use this experience to inform your next attempt at quitting. Remain curious and considering what was working well before and what may have prompted the relapse.

It may be useful to discuss this with your doctor or specialist, as they might be able to help you adapt your treatment or coping strategies so that you can improve your chances of recovery.

Other treatment options for drug addiction

Alongside your self-care techniques, it may be useful to seek professional advice and treatment to help in your recovery. This might include:


Sometimes, medications can be prescribed to help prevent use and overcome dependency. For example, methadone is often prescribed to people who are addicted to heroin. Similarly, medications can be prescribed to reduce withdrawal symptoms, such as sleeping pills or anti-anxiety medications [1][7].


It is often helpful to attend therapy to help in overcoming addiction. There are various types of therapy available, such as [1][7][8]:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT can help in identifying triggers, recognizingharmful thoughts and behaviors, and learning positive coping strategies.
  • Family therapy: It can be helpful to attend therapy with family members. This can improve communication and problem-solving at home, creating a more positive family dynamic to help with the recovery process.
  • Motivational enhancement therapy: If someone feels incentivized and ready to stop their substance use, this type of therapy can help toincrease motivation to receive and engage with treatment.
  • Twelve Step Facilitation: This type of therapy is provided to individuals to help provide information and introduction into the 12 step programs that are often offered within support groups.

Inpatient care

Inpatient care can be provided at a rehabilitation facility, or ‘rehab’, where individuals can receive treatment and support in detoxification, withdrawal, and addiction recovery from specialized professionals [4][7].

Support groups

Support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous, can be very helpful for people overcoming addiction. These groups can provide a space to share experiences, provide and receive support and advice, and reduce social isolation [4][7].

How to manage withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse

Withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on the type of drug that has been used, the frequency and duration of use, and how quickly drug use is stopped. As such, it is sometimes safer to first consult a medical professional. They may advise inpatient treatment or medical intervention to ensure your safety, if withdrawal symptoms are likely to be severe [1][5].

It is also useful to understand the type and severity of withdrawal symptoms that you are likely to experience to help you prepare. Preparing for withdrawal may include alterations to your home environment, gathering prescriptions for medications to help with symptoms such as insomnia, nausea, or anxiety, or informing your family and friends so that they can provide appropriate support [5][6].

Cravings and urges will occur regularly during the withdrawal process, which can be challenging to overcome. It can be helpful to utilize the acronym DEADS to help in managing these cravings [9]:

  • Delay: It can be useful to find a way to distract yourself or refuse to give in to these urges, as cravings will often de-intensifyafter a short period of time. By delaying use, you can give yourself the time to move past them.
  • Escape: If you are facing a trigger, reminder, or temptation of drug use, remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible, as this will help to reduce the urge to use.
  • Accept: Cravings and urges are a normal part of the recovery process, as well as feelings of discomfort and frustration. Accepting and acknowledging these feelings can make them feel less overwhelming and help you to feel in control.
  • Dispute: When thoughts emerge of ‘needing’ to use substances or being unable to cope without them, try to challenge and dispute these ideas, acknowledging that they are irrational and untrue.
  • Substitute: When experiencing a craving, replace the substance with something else, whether it is a prescribed medication, exercise or other physical activity, or a positive and motivational thought, as this can help you to move past these urges.

These techniques might not work for everyone, so it is important to find coping strategies that work for you. To give yourself the best chance of recovery and preventing relapse, it is crucial to continue with your treatment program and any self-care techniques that work for you. The longer you maintain this process, the more successful you are likely to be [1][9].

However, relapse may occur, as this is a normal part of the recovery process. But you can try again, adapting and using effective treatment and coping strategies to work toward a full recovery [4][5].

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Treatment and Recovery. NIH. Retrieved from
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2022). Stigma and Discrimination. NIH. Retrieved from
  3. American Psychological Association. (Updated 2022). Substance Use, Abuse, and Addiction. APA. Retrieved from
  4. Health Direct Australia. (Reviewed 2022). Overcoming Addiction. HealthDirect. Retrieved from
  5. Mental Health America. (n.d). How Can I Stop Using Drugs?MHA. Retrieved from
  6. Harvard Medical School. (2021). 5 Action Steps for Quitting an Addiction. Harvard Health. Retrieved from
  7. National Health Service. (Reviewed 2023). Drug Addiction: Getting Help.NHS. Retrieved from
  8. McHugh, R.K., Hearon, B.A., & Otto, M.W. (2010). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Substance Use Disorders. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 33(3), 511-525. Retrieved from
  9. Lindel, R. (2017). 5 Ways to Deal with Urges and Cravings.SMART Recovery. Retrieved from
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Naomi Carr
Author Naomi Carr Writer

Naomi Carr is a writer with a background in English Literature from Oxford Brookes University.

Published: Jul 11th 2023, Last edited: Feb 21st 2024

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Morgan Blair is a licensed therapist, writer and medical reviewer, holding a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Jul 11th 2023