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Identifying Addiction Patterns: 5 Strategies to Overcome Them

Addiction patterns can hold you back from reaping the full benefits of recovery. Recognising and addressing these addiction patterns isn’t always easy, and it can take considerable effort to break them in early recovery. Following a few simple strategies can help in the process — and help you maintain your recovery for years to come.

What Are Addiction Patterns?

Addiction patterns are pervasive thoughts, behaviours, or even emotional responses to certain events. While many people believe addiction patterns to be strictly related to patterns of alcohol or substance use, they are far more encompassing and need to be identified and addressed in the process of achieving recovery.

Triggers and Cravings

A trigger is any event, situation, or thought that sparks a craving. This can quickly lead to the development of addiction patterns, such as:

  • Seeing an alcohol advertisement leads to craving a drink
  • The smell of vinegar triggers a desire for opioids
  • Going to a concert triggers a craving for stimulants

While people are in active addiction, it’s common to try to meet every craving, respond to every trigger, and ultimately use your drug of choice over and over again in response.

This pattern is often the first one that needs to be addressed since it leads directly to relapse. But other patterns can have the same negative outcome.

Avoiding Emotions

Another common addiction pattern is to constantly attempt to avoid, suppress, or distract yourself from experiencing intense emotions. While people are actively using substances, this is often done through substance use itself and is commonly referred to as drinking or using to cope.

These patterns often continue well into sobriety. Faced with an uncomfortable emotion, people may try to distract themselves with video games, shopping, exercise, or social media. They may suppress their emotions rather than face them head-on. Or they may avoid potentially emotional situations, as the emotion itself is too uncomfortable to bear.

All of these are temporary solutions, and some can even be harmful to your mental health. Emotions are a part of life, and learning to cope with your emotions in a healthy and productive manner is a key component of lasting recovery.

Getting Caught in a Reward Cycle

A common experience for people new to sobriety is to “trade one addiction for another.” People quitting opioid or alcohol use, for instance, may find themselves engaging in excessive gambling behaviour, compulsive shopping, or video game addiction.

The reason for these “trades” is relatively simple. Substance use disorders are associated with several changes in the brain’s reward circuitry, particularly a reduction in dopamine transmitters. This makes it difficult for people to feel a sense of reward from typical behaviour — and to seek out activities that provide high levels of reward instead.

Research investigating the so-called “behavioural addictions” has shown that these highly rewarding behaviours share many of the same effects as substance use disorders. As such, it can be easy to get caught in a new pattern of addiction — even after you’ve achieved sobriety.

How Addiction Patterns Develop

Understanding how addiction patterns develop is an important component of identifying them and breaking free. Patterns learnt during addiction can last well after you’ve achieved sobriety and for a relatively simple reason.

The challenges that people face during a substance use disorder can quickly become overwhelming and are often outside of your direct control. As such, people turn to strategies that help deal with these challenges, and these patterns solidify in the brain the more they are employed.

Take the process of avoiding emotions as an example. During a substance use disorder, people may be exposed to deeply troubling emotional experiences, such as:

  • Trauma
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Housing or financial insecurity
  • Fear

Using drugs or alcohol to cope with these emotions can often provide significant relief — at least for a little while. When you feel an intensely uncomfortable experience and learn that drugs or alcohol can remove it, you are more likely to repeat the process the next time you feel uncomfortable emotions.

Even when you get sober, the pattern of avoiding these emotions remains. Experiencing an emotion can be triggering and lead to cravings, but if you are committed to sobriety, you might take the path of finding other ways of avoiding the emotion rather than addressing or confronting it.

These patterns can be broken and replaced with healthier patterns. But like all other types of habits and patterns in life, it takes a concerted effort of will, dedication, and practise to accomplish.

5 Strategies to Overcome Addiction Patterns

To help you with the process, we’ve developed a brief guide of strategies you can start using today to overcome addiction patterns. Not all strategies work for everyone, and it’s okay to struggle with breaking addiction patterns.

Healing takes time, and you can always reach out for professional support if these patterns are starting to interfere with your life.

1. Make a List of Harmful Patterns

One of the first strategies you should employ to identify and address addiction patterns is taking inventory of the patterns you see yourself falling into. By bringing your conscious awareness to the pattern, it becomes easier to break the habitual, automatic behaviours you may be engaging in.

To make a list of your harmful addiction patterns, start with a sheet of paper. Divide it into three columns titled:

  1. Trigger
  2. Pattern
  3. Alternative

In the trigger column, identify the events, circumstances, thoughts, or emotions that precede your harmful patterns. These triggers are what ultimately lead to engaging in addiction patterns, and learning to recognise them is an important step in overcoming them.

In the second column, describe the pattern itself. This is the automatic behaviour that leads you down a negative path — it’s what you’re hoping to change.

Finally, in the third column, list healthier alternatives to your addiction patterns that you could do instead.

An example of this list might look like this:

  1. Trigger: Going to the airport
  2. Pattern: Waiting at the bar to eat and drink
  3. Alternative: Bringing food to the airport, watching a show on an iPad, or listening to a podcast while waiting at the gate

Making a list isn’t enough to break the pattern itself. But it can help you identify when you may fall into addictive patterns, prepare yourself ahead of time to break the pattern and make you aware of your automatic behaviour.

2. Practise Mindfulness

The very core of mindfulness practises is designed to help you observe your own thoughts and behavioural patterns clearly. By focusing on observing your thoughts rather than acting on them immediately, it becomes easier to see when you’re falling into a pattern and use a different and more adaptive coping strategy.

Mindfulness is often associated with specific practises. This could include:

  • Seated meditation
  • Yoga
  • Breathwork

But these practises are just that — practise. They are intended to help you become more mindful in your everyday life and observe the patterns and thoughts you can fall into without even recognising them.

Many people find that bringing a more mindful perspective to their current situation is enough to stop addiction patterns in their tracks. If you can notice a pattern before you act it out, it’s much easier to change your behaviour before falling into the pattern.

3. Find Healthier Alternatives to Dealing With Problems

Addiction patterns often follow a pattern themselves. They are quick, easy, reliable solutions to problems, but they bring about more problems later because the problem itself never gets addressed.

Finding healthier alternatives that address your problems directly is one of the foundational elements of living a long and successful life in recovery. Any number of strategies can be used in place of addiction patterns, but common alternatives include:

  • Attending a support group
  • Working with a therapist
  • Learning healthy coping strategies
  • Solution-focused strategies
  • Exercise

Of course, the alternative to addiction patterns depends largely upon what the original pattern was to begin with.

Practising mindfulness can be a great way of dealing with cravings. Working with a therapist is an excellent way to treat mental health conditions or automatic thoughts. And support groups can be fantastic sources of support when you’re unsure of how to approach a certain life challenge.

Finding the right alternative for you is an ongoing process, and it can change over the course of your recovery. But making the effort to swap unhealthy patterns with healthier ones pays dividends in the long run.

4. Lean on a Support Network

Social support has long been touted as one of the most effective ways of helping people overcome substance use disorders — and for good reason. Not only does a social support network celebrate the good times with you, but they can be there to share the load of difficult life experiences or challenging times.

If you see yourself falling into an addictive pattern, reach out to a supportive friend or family member to talk it through. They may be able to provide an alternative solution or at least empathise with your position and take the weight off of you.

5. Get Professional Help

If you find yourself falling into old addiction patterns over and over again, and it’s starting to threaten your sobriety or interfere with living as you see fit, consider reaching out for professional help.

Mental health professionals have specialised training to help people recognise their addictive patterns, learn alternative ways of dealing with them, and stay on course to achieve a better state of mental health and quality of life.

At APN London, our team uses a wide variety of techniques, therapeutic modalities, and treatment options to help our clients identify and overcome addiction patterns.

Individual Therapy

Individual therapy is one-on-one work with a therapist or counsellor. It provides the most depth of any therapy technique and can help you dig into underlying causes and conditions that may lead to addiction patterns.

Once your patterns have been identified, your therapist can provide you with evidence-based tools to overcome them and help support you in a lifelong recovery.

Group Therapy

Group therapy provides a different approach to helping people with addiction patterns by bringing people with a common experience together to work on solutions.

Sometimes, the person best equipped to help you overcome an addiction pattern is someone who’s felt the same way, did the same things, and come through the other side.

Lifestyle Psychiatry

Lifestyle psychiatry is a unique approach to mental health treatment that combines traditional psychiatry with targeted lifestyle change. There is substantial evidence that shows that lifestyle changes can make a marked difference in your ability to maintain your recovery, but many people struggle to make these changes on their own.

With lifestyle psychiatry, you get targeted and individualised approaches to make these changes, as well as professional accountability to help you achieve your goals.

Start Treatment at APN London

Ready to get started? Call our team today at 0207 193 1128 or complete our online contact form to get more information on treatment services at APN London.


  • Albrecht, Ulrike et al. “Diagnostic instruments for behavioural addiction: an overview.” Psycho-social medicine vol. 4 Doc11. 4 Oct. 2007
  • Vadivale, A. M., Sathiyaseelan, A., & Monacis, L. (2019). Mindfulness-based relapse prevention – A meta-analysis. Cogent Psychology, 6(1).