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How to Stop Bad Habits and Addictions — Breaking the Cycle

You are not alone — learn how to stop bad habits and addictions with strategies that help you break the cycle, find freedom, and create the life you deserve.

Table of Contents

Why is it so easy to indulge in bad habits and addictions, while maintaining good habits is an uphill battle? The struggle is real and we’ve all been there, and probably are there right now.

Even Paul, the greatest evangelist that ever lived, wrote about this struggle in Romans 7:19-20:

“For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.”

Romans 7:19-20

If Paul had this struggle, it’s safe to say we’re not alone in ours. But there is hope. While our bad habits and addictions may seem insurmountable, Jesus said in John 16:33:

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

Jesus has overcome the world, and with it everything you are struggling with. With God’s help, His strength, power, and might, you can overcome these areas in your life. There is hope and a path to victory over vice.

And, when you break these bad habits and addictions through faith and God’s strength, it will lead to lasting change. Keep reading for more.

Understanding the Cycle of Bad Habits and Addictions

A graphic image with text overlay reads as: How to Stop Bad Habits & Addictions - Breaking The Cycle. In the left is a photo of a woman running in the road doing exercise.

The Habit Loop

The basic model of the habit loop consists of a cue, routine, and reward. This loop applies to both bad habits and full-blown addictions.

The cue, or “reminder,” is the thing that triggers the bad habit or addiction. The routine is the repeated behavior, bad habit, or addiction. And the reward is what the behavior does to, or for, you.

Brain Science

While we’re cycling through the habit loop, our brains are working to reinforce these behaviors in our psyche. When we experience reward through habits (good or bad,) and addictions, we receive a surge of dopamine in our brains. 

Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter. It’s made by our bodies and used by our nervous system to send messages between nerve cells. Dopamine is responsible for lighting up the pleasure sensors in our brains and for making us feel good.

This dopamine surge strengthens the neural connections in our brains making us more likely to repeat the behavior. If we feel good after doing something we will want to repeat the process to get the same effect.

Emotional and Psychological Triggers

Now that we know what  the habit loop is, it’s important to recognize what emotional and psychological events start the cycle. What cues set you in motion to continue bad habits and harmful addictions?

Often, things like:

  • boredom 
  • stress 
  • unmet needs
  • traumatizing past events
  • feelings of inadequacy

…and more, can fuel this cycle in your life. Some of the things listed above can stem from a lack of connection with God. Often, the closer and more connected we are to Him, the easier it is to find hope and healing in these areas of our lives, and the less likely we are to turn to bad habits and addictions.

Identifying Your Personal Cycle with Prayerful Reflection

The Importance of Awareness

They say the first step to recovery is to admit you have a problem. Because, if we don’t have any problems, then we have nothing we need to recover from, right? This is where the importance of self-awareness comes in.

It’s imperative to be able to examine your life openly and honestly and allow yourself to become aware of where this habit cycle is occurring in your life. A lot of bad habits and addictions are allowed to run unchecked in our lives simply because we are so used to them being there we are unaware we’re doing it.

It’s possible to see a habit change and overcome addiction in our lives, but it first starts with awareness.

Journaling and Prayer

Journaling and prayer can be key in helping you identify the triggers, actions, and feelings that set bad habits and addictions into motion. 

First, pray about these areas of your life and allow God to reveal to you where you are struggling. Bad habits and addictions can become so second nature to us that we aren’t even aware there is a problem.

Once you’ve identified what you need to lay down, begin to journal your days. Record thoughts, feelings, actions, anything that will help you see a pattern going forward. Then, when you do fall back into bad habits and addictions, you will be able to see what led you to it.

Click here for a beginner’s guide to Bible journaling.

Spotting Patterns

Through consistent journaling, you can begin to identify patterns in your life. Perhaps you gave into the bad habit of binge eating after a major disappointment occurred in your life. Or, you succumbed to that alcohol addiction after attending that party where the drinks were flowing.  

Not only will journaling help you identify the cues that come before the routine, it will also help you see the areas where you’re seeking fulfillment outside of your relationship with God. Once you illuminate these areas, you can allow healing and self-care to take place.

Breaking the Habit Loop with God’s Strength

Disrupting the Cue

The first step in breaking the habit loop, with God’s strength, is to disrupt the cue. Remember, the “cue,” is the thing that triggers your bad habit or addiction. If you can identify what those triggers are, and become more self-aware, then you will be able to help overcome them and replace them with positive habits. 

For instance, I used to be a smoker. And one of my favorite places to smoke was driving in the car. It’s almost like I didn’t know how to drive without a cigarette in my hand. I felt like I needed something else to do to make the time pass, so I swapped smoking for singing. I couldn’t smoke and sing at the same time so it helped divert me from that particular trigger.

Some other alternative responses to whatever cues your bad habits and addictions could be:

  • prayer 
  • reading the Bible
  • connecting with a Christian support group
  • calling a friend
  • taking a walk
  • journaling
  • exercise 
  • starting a new hobby
  • self-improvement

The list is endless. Just remember, as you go about the process of interrupting this habit cycle, don’t leave God out of it. Invite Him, and His strength, into your personal battle. Allow Him to help you and rely on Him every step of the way. You can do this with Him.

Replacing the Reward

We stay enslaved to our habits and addictions because of the reward we receive when we do them. This reward is temporary and, in the case of bad habits and addictions, damaging. It may light up the pleasure sensors of our brains for a brief moment, but the end result is physical and emotional damage to ourselves, our relationships with friends and family, and our relationship with God

When we seek pleasure through this avenue, it’s not ultimately fulfilling. Instead of trying to suppress the urge to satisfy our longings, we need to seek healthier ways to achieve the reward the habit provides.

The greatest source of pleasure and fulfillment we will ever experience will be in serving God and drawing close to Him.

Seek Support

Overcoming habits and addictions is not a battle you have to fight on your own, nor should you try. There are so many resources available to you from accountability groups, your local church body, addiction recovery groups, and Christian counseling services.

There is no shame in asking for help. There is no condemnation in admitting you are struggling with a bad habit or addiction, and you cannot pull yourself out on your own.

One of the biggest lies from the enemy is that you cannot reveal your bad habits and addictions. If you do, you will be ostracized, ridiculed, and abandoned by those you love. Or that you’re the only one who struggles with this thing and no one will understand. That is simply not true.

You will actually be surprised by the support system you have. How many people are struggling with the same issue. How loved and accepted you are and how much desire those around you have to see you whole and healed. 

Please don’t be afraid to seek help, community, and support as you turn away from bad habits and addictions and turn toward new found freedom instead.

For more information, check out this article from Mayo Clinic about the The Hidden Costs of Bad Habits.

Addressing Root Causes Through Faith

Unhealed Pain and Addiction

It’s not uncommon to find that the roots of addiction began with some sort of abuse or trauma in your life. Unhealed pain can fuel that addiction and keep the flames fanned in your life.

This is when professional help is needed. You may not have the resources to dig deep on your own, but they do. Seek guidance from a licensed Christian counselor who can help you navigate old hurts and wounds in your life. They can help put you on a path to healing using God and His Word as the basis for every session.

Unmet Spiritual Needs

Often, our habits and addictions are fueled because we’re trying to cope with a lack of things in our lives. It could be a lack of love from our family, maybe a lack of purpose in our life, or maybe we don’t feel validation from those we love. 

It’s easy to try and fill those gaping holes in our lives with unhealthy things. Over-eating highly processed foods, drugs, alcohol, etc. Those things may light up those pleasure centers, but the high lasts only moments, and then we feel empty again.

Ultimately, true and lasting love and fulfillment can only come from our Heavenly Father. He loves you so much He sent His only Son to die for you on the cross. Allow yourself to draw close to Him and find all your unfulfilled needs, and those giant holes, filled through Him.

He will never let you down. He will never disappoint. He will never make you feel less than or unworthy of affection. 

Mindfulness and Prayer

As you begin to make these huge changes in your life, be sure to include mindfulness and prayer as you go. 

There are inner wounds that are driving the habit cycle. It started somewhere. Practice mindfulness and prayer as you allow God to reveal the things to you that are sparking your bad habits and addictions. 

James 5:16 says:

 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

James 5:16

It’s important to confess these things to a trusted source so you will have their prayer and support. Allow God’s healing grace to enter your life and heal those hurt parts you’ve been hiding for so long. He can, and He will, perform a wonderful work in your life if you allow Him.

Building a New Life Rooted in Faith

Focus on the Positive

It’s very important that, when removing a bad habit or addiction, you put in its place something else. Otherwise, you’ve left a huge hole in your life and it will get filled with something. 

Let’s decide now that what you fill the void with is something God honors and is productive to your life. Let’s focus on creating new, healthy habits that will align with your faith, not simply fighting the old habits. 

This might look like focusing on personal development, a healthy lifestyle, stress management, and increasing our time spent in prayer and reading God’s Word.

Focus on the positive instead of constantly dwelling on the negative. What are so good habits you can make a part of your life today, as you kick some old, bad habits out?

Small Wins, Big Impact

Proverbs 3:5-6 says:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do. Memorize His promises to you. Don’t rely on what you see and feel, but rather what God has said in His Word. Allow Him to guide your steps as you begin this incredible journey to freedom.

And remember, it is a journey. Lasting change and freedom from bad habits and addictions does not happen overnight. This is why it’s so important to celebrate the small victories and sustainable positive actions as you go.

Don’t wait till you’re “arrived” to celebrate your achievements. Learn to recognize them as you go and acknowledge them as they happen. It may be small, but it’s a big deal!

Redefining Rewards

It’s important, as you create new, healthy habits, to link them to feelings of joy, accomplishment, and a deeper connection with God.

This will create a reward within your brain that is deep and long lasting, not just the momentary and quickly evaporating thrill you had before. 

When we seek our satisfaction, purpose, and sense of identity in Christ alone, the reward and pleasure derived from that will sustain us as we find true fulfillment in the One who created us. 

Setbacks and Relapse Prevention with God’s Grace

Normalize Setbacks

Romans 8:1 tells us that:

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 8:1

As you embark on this journey to change your life, you are going to have set-backs. It’s normal and it’s part of the process. This doesn’t mean you have failed and that you should just give up. Absolutely not.

Rely on God’s forgiveness and grace in these moments. Ask for it. Allow Jesus to wash you in the blood He shed on the cross for you. Then get back up and keep going. There is no condemnation in Christ.

Relapse Prevention Plan

Create a relapse prevention plan. Especially if you’re recovering from a serious addiction, it’s important that you take proper precautions to keep relapses from happening. Make sure you are identifying high risk situations and staying far away from them. Be careful where you go and who you spend time with.

Develop coping mechanisms for how you handle high stress situations and be aware of what your triggers and cravings are. Make sure your top coping mechanism is prayer and commit to coming before the Father regularly when you are feeling moments of weakness.

And make sure you are reaching out for support and accountability in your Christian community. Maybe it’s your small group at church, a recovery group, or an online community. Wherever the support is, do not hesitate to reach out to them in moments of weakness.

You are not alone. Don’t believe the lie that you are. So many are going through this very thing. Let them hold your hand, pray for and with you, and support you as you walk this road. 

Read more about what the Bible says about addiction for recovery.

Self-Compassion and Forgiveness

Most of all, show yourself compassion and forgiveness. This is crucial for maintaining motivation and avoiding shame spirals. God loves you, He’s forgiven you, and He accepts you. Jesus died for you while you were still in your sin! Don’t allow the enemy to throw your sin, or setbacks, in your face.

Allow God’s forgiveness to transform and empower you to continue moving forward. 

Remember what 1 John 1:9 says:

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

1 John 1:9

FAQs On How To Stop Bad Habits and Addictions

How long does it take to break a bad habit?

There is a myth going around that it takes 21 days to break a habit. That’s actually not true. This is really going to vary from person to person. Some people can simply put something down and move on with their lives, while others will struggle over something for years. There is no one answer that applies to everyone.

Trust God with your journey, and don’t compare yourself with others. Focus on goal setting and reaching one goal at a time. Make today your “day one” and don’t look back.

What’s the difference between a bad habit and an addiction?

A bad habit can be annoying and have a negative effect, but it’s typically non-destructive. But, when a bad habit becomes damaging, destructive, and out of control, then it becomes an addiction.

Can I do this alone, or do I need professional help?

For a minor bad habit, you may be able to break the cycle on your own. For addictions, I would encourage you to seek out Christian counseling and support to help you overcome them. There is no shame in asking for help. There is so much support available to you. Don’t think you need to struggle with this alone.

Bad habits and addictions are real, and most of us struggle with at least one. But we don’t have to continue the habit-cycle forever. Our freedom from sin was bought at a price. Jesus conquered it once and for all and we can have that freedom through His sacrifice on the cross.

Finding release from bad habits and addictions will not happen overnight, but they will happen with reliance on God’s strength and replacing bad habits with faith-filled pursuits. Keep making strides forward and focus on the progress you make day-to-day.

This all begins with one small step. If there is something in your life, a bad habit or a full blown addiction, that you need to lay down, make one small change today. Or, if you’re not sure how to start, seek some further guidance. That’s it. 

Nothing changes if nothing changes. You can do this.

A graphic image with text overlay reads as: How to Stop Bad Habits & Addictions - Breaking The Cycle. In the left is a photo of a woman running in the road doing exercise.

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