How Long Does it Take to Break a Habit or Addiction?

I always hear the statistic that it takes six weeks to make or break a habit. That may be true in cases like turning off the porch light in the morning, but I haven’t had the same success in life when it came to overcoming various destructive habits of mine.

Often I gut it out through those six weeks only to either give up, or quit that habit but replace it with something just as bad. I likened the experience to a stress-ball. I squeeze it really hard in my hand, and it may even squeeze through my fingers. Did the material in the stress ball dissappear? Nope. What happens when I release the  ball? It all goes back right where it was before.

Compulsive and/or destructive habits seem to work in the same way. Why does it seem that every time we identify a bad behavior in our life and work to chop it down, that another takes it’s place almost immediately?

That is because we are attacking the evidence that there is a problem, not the problem itself. Identifying the root issue takes time, but it is well worth it. When I say “time”, I’m talking about anywhere from a year or more.

That’s correct – to truly break the root cause of your destructive habits or addictions will take at least one year. Don’t despair though, because that can and will be a very good thing.

When I went to my first Celebrate Recovery meeting, they said that the program involved 2 meetings a week for a year. I nearly ran out of the room! I was thinking it would be a 6-8 week class, and I’d be “healed”. I’m a pretty smart guy and a quick study – surely there would be some shortcut, right?

God had a different plan with no shortcuts, and I’m glad I stuck with it. I’ve finally understood the spiritual issues behind why I do what I do, and how to let God use and change me. I still struggle, but it’s way better than it used to be. Best of all, there is real hope that not just my life will be different, but that my current child and any future siblings’ lives will be different. The same sin issues passed from generation to generation will stop here. Of course sin will still rear it’s ugly head and they’ll have struggles, but they’ll be different ones.

So I wanted to be totally up-front before we start on this path to recovery – give it a year and you will see a dramatic difference. My 12-step group probably had 25 people participate, but we ended with 5 people.

The cool part about the web is that you may be starting this journey a year after I write this, but it won’t matter. However, don’t think you can read all my posts for a shortcut to freedom. It doesn’t work that way.

The best advice I could give would be to join a Biblically-based 12-step group and get plugged in. Also stop by this site to share your experiences as you work towards submitting your life to Christ; allowing him to break the bonds of whatever habit or addiction you are facing today.

24 Responses to “How Long Does it Take to Break a Habit or Addiction?”

  1. Dear Matt,

    Wonderful blog you have! I greatly appreciate your courage to share this post with the world.I enjoyed reading through your posts. I pray that God will expand His boundaries using your blog as a tool.

    ~Sidharth
    TWJ Ministries
    http://www.yeshua.co.nr

    PS: I come from a hindu faith, met the Lord Jesus at the age of 9 when He healed me of cancer of the bone/muscle- and I have been growing in the faith ever since.

  2. Sidharth,

    thanks for sharing your testimony – God is great!

  3. Hi,
    I was searching for a place to talk about my addiction to pain killers, but would also discuss God. I was saved in last year and was released from my addiction though God’s love and grace. It was so exciting to see things thru a new set of eyes and have a true love for life like when I was kid. I was attending a bible study group, going to church every week, starting to fom good relationships with members of the church, having private sessions with my pastor and reading the bible constantly, I was eager to learn as much as possible.
    This summer I switched jobs and could not attend bible study anymore, started going away on the weekends and gradually drifted from the church. I tryed to keep in touch with my “friends” thru email, but they were different to me, being a new christian I had alot of questions and at that time I was going through some stuff and really needed someone to listen. I would explain my situation and ask for their christian advice, would talk about scriptures asking them what they meant or how to use them in my life, they would not return my emails, like they were turing their back on me. This really hurt me, here they are church members and always talking about how they need to support new christians, but when I really needed them-they were’nt there.
    I started to feel they did not want me in their church (they suggested I try out other churches)- It took alot for me to go somewhere and tell my story – truthfully – and became the token drug addict. This is the church I attended when I was child and girls that I knew from my youth group did not make me feel welcome, they would not even say hi to me. I could tell in their eyes (she’s the druggie)

    My question to everyone is has anyone else experienced this?

    It hurts me that God’s people cannot support each other, I expected to be shown alittle compassion. I guess to be welcome in this church you already have to be perfect in their eyes, people trying to learn about God and still have some issues are not welcome. I kept asking for months if I could become a member and was continually told I would be contacted thru mail. 11 months later and still have not received anything.

    The world is tough enough, I thought the church was some sort of refuge.

    Another question I have : has anyone experienced “clickyness” when trying to find a church?

  4. Hi Kimberly,

    Thanks for sharing about your addiction. Being open is a great step and it looks like you’ve gone well past that first step by growing in your faith. While I don’t know your specific situation, I can tell you with 100% confidence that

    People suck – that includes “church people” and non. That’s one of the biggest paradigm shifts I had to encounter, was that going to church and growing closer to Christ would not turn me into a perfect person – or even close. The Lord says that we are a work in progress, but even then we will never be like Christ. That’s the whole reason we need this relationship with God – because we were never meant to do this alone. It was always supposed to be a partnership.

    I’m very sorry that you were let down by that church, but it’s good you found out their “suckiness” early. This way you can move on. Even if you have the pills beat, there is probably a great deal of residual gunk in your life that led to that issue. If you remotely agree with that, then I encourage you to check out celebraterecovery.com and see if any churches in or near your town have a CR program.

    I have 1/2 a bajillion posts on this blog that talk about what Jesus Christ has done in my life via Celebrate Recovery, and I invite you to check a couple out – just type that in the search form in the upper right, and you’ll find far more that you want to read.

    I also encourage you to get back on the horse and put yourself out there again with a new church. Look for one that has classes for new believers – Alpha is a great class as well that is done in a small group fashion across the nation and around the world. You don’t even have to be a “member” of these churches to do the classes.

    Another tip I received once was to start serving, even if I am new in the faith. Sure, I may not be able to do much as far as building others in knowledge, but I can do numerous tasks for Christ to serve others. If I’m serving, then it is rare that I notice when others screw me over. I haven’t been very good at trying this out, but I hear it works :)

    I’ll be praying for you Kimberly that God will help you get plugged into the body and give you the courage to keep moving forward. It’s all about Jesus.

  5. Hi! I just stumbled across your website and read your post and Kimberly’s reply. What a coincidence I too have struggled with pain killer addiction on and off for the last 10 years-ugh. Just typing that makes me realise how much time it’s been. Anyway, after giving birth to my 15 month old they of course put me on percocet in the hospital, which was monitered by the nurses, I went home and no issues…until about 3 weeks later I got an infection from breast feeding and was put on vicodin and then percocet and after 9 months sober I was (as they say in the program..lol) ‘off to the races’. I started getting a supply from a friend who gets ridiculous amounts, then also found a dr who was willing to prescribe oxy for my ‘back pain’ (sometimes real). Anyway, being the super smart addict that I am, I decided that I had this thing figured out. I have come off a physical oxy addiction…NO FUN…so decided I will do this the ‘smart’ way and do 3 days on…4 days off…4 days on…3 days off…party because I knew it wouldn’t get me physically addicted but also because my tolerance has gotten so high that they rarely last longer than that anyway, no matter how many I get. Anyway, that brings me to today, my frustration is that: I have done the AA/NA thing, not for me. I called my insurance yesterday and the nurse I spoke with could literally not fathom the fact that I am psychologically very addicted to pain killers, but not physically. So she was super rude and I hung up on her. I am not involved in a church and do not necessarily consider myself a Christian, although I suppose being raised in the church I lean more towards Christianity…I don’t know but I really liked what you had to say and I need help this is starting to take a real toll on my relationship and I know it will affect my daughter and probably already does. I need help!

  6. Great write up till you get to the biblical part. I figured I would continue to read cause aside from the book savior you sounded like you might have something up your sleeve. Then you said it…. CHRIST! Good stuff!

    The Word of God. That is Christ. Praise the Lord for the Word of God. That is Christ! No Books only the real thing. Yeshua the one and only word of God!

  7. @ Rachel – I am 100% ashamed I haven’t been checking these comments. Hopefully you subscribed to them and get this but if not I pray the next person identifying with yours or any other scenarios check out http://www.celebraterecovery.org/ and find a meeting near you.

    If you do not find one or it doesn’t work out – I want you to tell me!!! (I mean this in a good & non-creepy way).

    Sometimes the issue is me & not the group…. sometimes it is the group because we are all people and the group sometimes follows the leader even if they’re bad. And of course sometimes groups just aren’t available.

    @ James

    Ha Ha – GOTCHA w/ the Jesus card. :) Yeah bro, without Christ, nothing is possible.

  8. wow all i can say is i landed on this site for a reason.

    Im addicted to food-there i said it out loud, for so long now i have let food control me and my life.. i really have had enough and cant take it anymore.

    God is a big part of my life but i know if you pray without wanting the outcome, it wont work.
    i am hurting my body and letting only myself down. maybe it all is just a comfort thing but its taken over. reading the above made me cry, i have tried so many times to let this go and gain control and have never gotten thro a week.. and when i saw it will take up to a year.. i was in shock.

    One day at a time right?

    but the thought of being in contorl and happy is so wanting.
    i now know that i want the outcome and feel ready to make the change to a healthy life style, and i know God will be with me every step of the way, all i need to do is ask.

    God is good and life is beautiful. i will do my best to not fail myself and keep my focus.

    Thank you all for your stories!
    God bless

  9. Naty,
    it is amazing how our God directs us, and we stumble upon such divine circumstances. i too somehow came upon this sight. i too have an addiction to food, specifically sugar. i have in the past been addicted to seemingly worse, coke, marijuana, alcohol, sex, self gratification, and the list could go on. but somehow this sugar thing seems to be harder! but our God is BIGGER than our addictions. that is FOR SURE. he keeps reminding along my stumbling path that He has gotten me this far, and will continue breaking chains and setting me free. i believe God is going to set you free, and maybe even as i write this, you are already free! by the BLood of the Lamb we are cleansed, may we walk in the light as He is in the light. anything we bring to the light no longer can have a hold on us. Hallelujah for His POWER over our darkness!

  10. hi, how can i break the cycle of fornication that is in my present relationship,….. i have prayed and prayed to God for help……. we need help on this . i dont want to go back to that act anymore…please advice.

  11. Hi Nnamdi,

    I struggled with the issue of sexual sin for years, and I am a witness to God’s ability to free us from all bondage. Read Romans chapters 6-8. It changed my outlook/life.

  12. to nnamdi nweke; my advice on breaking the cycle of fornication, if you have not already, you need to get out of the relationship or get married. The only way to break that cycle of sin is by getting away from it. If you love the person in which this sin is happening then get married, if you are not sure you want to spend the rest of your life with them then you should not be fornicating with them. I know I have been blunt but I do it in concern for your well being. May the Lord be glorified as you yield your body and members over to Him.

  13. Hi, I have been encouraged reading the posts and seeing the honesty in people to share their problems. I really pray that God will strengthen you through this time.

    It’s almost the new year and so I’m trying to break habits.
    I have constantly been struggling with is with masturbation. It started when I accidentally discovered ‘mature’ on-line fanfiction, and my school friend encouraging me to try it out. Slowly, I started to look for more ‘materials’ and honestly am addicted to mature content fanfiction (stories) and manga (Japanese comics), even playing adult sex games and watching short anime clips that involve sex. I hate it and I’m embarrassed by it, so I havent been able to talk to my pastors – I’m afraid of how they will look at me, and I know they won’t hate me or anything and they will support and encourage me, but maybe it’s my pride – I dont want anyone i know, to know about it. I have prayed many times for God to break this addiction and stronghold in my life, but my faith and relationship with God has also weakened. I want to desire God and spend time reading His Word each day and being able to pray, but I struggle with it.

    I’ve always given excuses about it, saying that it’s not sin if I’m not thinking of a person, but I know it’s wrong.

    Can anyone help me to break this? With prayer or with advise, I would appreciate it.

  14. How do I break the chains of homosexuality? I already know its wrong. Even an idiot can see that God is not pleased when a man (who is equipped to be with a woman) lies with another man. I blame early childhood experiences for my struggle. I was molested at two different times in my life at the ages of 7 and 14. Both times were by neighbors and growing up in a single parent home (no dad) already left me unassured. I had no father figure to model. Now I want to live a Christian life but keep finding myself behaving completely unchristian. I have prayed but often feel as though God is just as absent as my father.

  15. I did not mention earlier that in an effort to be “one of the guys” as I always wanted to fit in…I married and now have 4 beautiful children…all with the same woman. She knows my struggles and believe it or not had a similar story as she was molested as a child herself. Even though she knows a little…she does not know the depths of this struggle. I hate to talk about it with her as I’m afraid she’d question even further her own sexuality. I constantly get depressed and go through months of this often feeling suicidal. Its getting harder to pull myself out of these slumps. Please give my your advice.

  16. Hey Lester. Thanks for stopping by.

    Feelings of homosexuality… that’s a tough one to tackle in such a small space. Sounds like you’re aware of the foundation of truth here. That’s truly excellent, because there are many people trying to convince folks like you and I of otherwise.

    For now let’s look at the sexual abuse and depression angle. There are some root issues here which if you go at those, you’ll likely find the answers you’re looking for.

    Jesus is the only one who can pull us out of slumps. I struggle with depression as well, so have plenty of experience in that area. Another angle to look at this from re: suicide. Is:

    (A) God loves you with an incredible passion you and I will scarcely understand this side of eternity. Ask him to show you even a piece of it. I am praying for you about this as well… right now, actually.
    (B) I’ve never experienced sexual abuse, though one of my best friends has who is starting up a men’s sexual abuse survivors group. He’s not a blogger unfortunately but I know at least Celebrate Recovery addresses that – a few guys in my group right now who are dealing with that. If there is no CR in your area, check into a similar Christ-centered 12-step group. And
    (C) Hang with me here all the way through this one because I bring it back around at the end. The root of suicidal feelings isn’t hopelessness (been here at times in my life). It’s pride. I realize nobody feeling suicidal wants anyone jumping on the pile and I’m not here. The positive part of this God lets us take from this when he lets us hit the end of ourselves (feelings of hopelessness) is now I know what to do.

    At my feelings of deepest hopelessness, I am also at the closest point to being willing to fully put my hope in God. I’m then free from having to attack circumstance (e.g. whatever struggles exist in my life). God has us attack our pride while seeking his love and we’ll see some of those depressive feelings lift – I guarantee you that based on the hundreds of guys I’ve seen over the years coming through recovery programs.

    It’s going to be more than okay. Give me a shout back next time you have a sec -

  17. Yeah for me it’s kind of a double-whammy: I’ve struggled with homosexuality for almost as long as I remember, since childhood. I didn’t realize that it was a problem until I discovered masturbation. I then found myself staying up into the middle of the night warching gay porn and masturbating ad naseum. I have a girlfriend now, but I haven’t told her about my struggles; I know she wouldn’t understand. And lately the porn isn’t enough: I’ve started hooking up with other gay men, although I recognize how wrong it is. I’m so confused physically and sexually, and worried that I will never be able to love a woman as passionately and beautifully as God wants me to. I don’t want to end up in a loveless relationship with a woman that I can never be truly intimate and vulnerable with. What should I do?

  18. I finally quit smoking after 10 years. Started at 17. So sad. Been in church my whole life. 3times a week. For 20 years. I should have known better. But it was always a subject that some preachers thought would send you to hell and other pastors said it would not send you to Hell. But you will smell like you’ve been there. Finally God had to show me. That by sacrificing this habit I loved, I would truly get to see who He was in my life. He has been helping me so much. I knew I could never quit on my own. He had to help me.

  19. Hi
    I thought I was free of porn – but I have fallen back into it. I stay free about 2 weeks then – bam -fall again. I know Jesus is my answer but I’m not quite sure how to appropriate this freedom.

  20. Disappointed my post was removed? Had a genuine issue, maybe you thought I was trying to be awkward. Pity. Thought people wer being open on here? Bless you anyway.

  21. Hey Steve, wasn’t hanging onto your post – just don’t check the comment queue on the blog as often as I should. Ton of spam on the web so I have to manually review them all. Had 59 tonight to read through. Thanks for posting and I’ll try to review the queue more often. Blessings,

  22. Hey Daniel, thanks for your openness. My reply may draw me some ire from those in the gay community but hopefully we’ll fly under the radar here and this will be of encouragement to you. I believe God wants you to have a fruitful marriage someday with a woman and it’s purpose will be a blessing here on earth, but ultimately be a shadow of what is to come with your relationship to God. It was weird of me to think of it that way but much of that was because my understanding of sex and love got so twisted from my upbringing. Maybe it’s the same or it isn’t with you, but just saying it is good you are raising these questions with yourself and hopefully with the Lord. It seems he’s tugging on your heart in some way and calling you into something deeper and more wonderful with him.

    Not sure the depth of the relationships w/ other dudes that you’re talking about so bear with me a bit. I don’t know much about people feeling romantic love and anything like a soul tie to a person of the same sex so if that’s the case I’ll have to plead ignorance of what God does with those feelings. I haven’t had many guys come through our group who struggle in that way.

    There have been guys who struggled with homosexual thoughts where the beginning was rooted in porn and they kept going after something edgier to raise the sexual intensity of their “session”. More “taboo” and more “taboo” until it gets to a point where they are confused. A deep romantic love wasn’t their struggle but society kept telling them their desire for sex meant they were just in denial about not having an emotional attraction as well.

    I know from experience even straight porn and any kind of fantasizing or masturbation outside of the bonds of marriage destroys the chance for intimacy in a relationship. Even guys into straight porn keep pushing the envelope – weirder and weirder stuff, or they start moving the age range – seen a couple guys go away for that. Heartbreaking…

    People rail against me for talking about how evil porn and lust is like I’m backwards or behind the times, but I’m always trying to stay on the cutting edge and challenging common wisdom. Sometimes that burns me, but I’ve experienced the damage of porn first-hand and seen literally hundreds of guys over the years trying to let the Lord rebuild this area of their lives. We’ve got to keep talking about it and I’m glad you stopped my. It’s just too important and too much of a live grenade for men to let these struggles and conversations go unspoken.

    Wish there was a simple answer brother. Coming to the Lord with an open heart acknowledging giving my heart over to lust is a first step. Letting him reeducate me on what he meant for me to do with my sexuality (keeping it within the marriage bed) is another step. Accountability in terms of going to a group may help. You don’t have to go to some “deprogramming” type of group or whatever. I would doubt “homosexuality” is your problem here. My hunch from what I’ve seen would be this is a lust issue that’s just barreled downhill. Going to a Christ-centered recovery group like Celebrate Recovery or whatever may be a great support to you. For example we talk very little about the actual addiction – some guys it’s sex, others alcohol, others anger, others codependency… it doesn’t matter because the root of all of them is exactly the same and the solution is exactly the same.

    Really hate trying to answer this stuff in an email but hope this is of some encouragement. Hit me up on the contact form if you want to talk about it more. I have a serious heart for guys in your situation – not in any type of piteous way, but because I’ve struggled with lust and experienced the destructive power. If any guy can escape, I’ll do what it takes to help. The Lord is with you -

  23. hey nnamdi, i think i know how u feel. personally i have been struggling with sexual and lustful thoughts and i end up turning to pornography and masturbation and its been killing me. i have a boyfriend and we decided to wait till marriage but the temptation is too great. i keep thinking of scripture the whole time i am with him and i stop myself, and i fear that i may end up finally giving in and i will never ever forgive myself. sometimes i feel like the only way out is to break up with him…to flee the temptation, and not try to stay there and attempt fighting it off & it seems like the fight is one sided as he has never tried to stop himself yet we talk about it every time. It is really killing my relationship with God but i dont want to leave him. i am in a dilemma but eventually i think he will have to go. How do i keep a good relationship with God and a meaningful and healthy lust free relationship with my boyfriend?

  24. Hi…
    I have bad habit of passing myself out to experience the thrill it gave me. It started when a friend passed me out when i was 11. Since then it became a verry bad habbit for almost 10 years now. During these 10 years I developed epilepsy which is obviously from all the lack of oxygen to the brain. Iwasverry scared to ask for help untill I found myself waking up at night bussy choking myself. It became so bad that my body does it by itself. I also noticed that it increases when i’m nervous. Now I doe this about 20 times an hour…

    I can’t live like this anymore. It is not normal and I really need help please…

    Thank you for taking the time to read this. I REALLY hope there is someone with advice

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