It is a new year, and that traditionally is a time for resolutions, for a fresh start, but most of New Year’s resolutions made in January fail by the end of the second week of February.

According to Don Stenhoff and Adam Hahs of Arizona State University’s Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program, one reason they fail is the goals set are too large. Lose 50 pounds. Get in shape. Stop smoking or drinking or using drugs.

Laudable goals, but you won’t see immediate results. The resolution-maker becomes discouraged and gives up. By setting more realistic goals—lose five pounds this month, workout three hours a week, cut down on smoking or drinking or using drugs—you are more likely to make incremental change.

This is similar to the adage in some addiction programs to take it one day at a time. To say you will never use drugs or drink or smoke again is scary and depressing to an addict. To say you won’t indulge your addiction for 24 hours is less scary, more manageable. If you succeed, you may be able to repeat it the following day.

Cold turkey isn’t always safe. With severe addictions to alcohol or benzodiazepines—Xanax, Klonopin, Valium—it can even be fatal. The drugs (and yes, alcohol is a drug, too) can sink their hooks into you so deep to stop abruptly can kill you. It definitely is safer to detox under medical supervision so any complications can be managed quickly.

In some cases, your doctor may prefer you taper off your drug use gradually or use medication-assisted treatments—safer drugs such as buprenorphine (Suboxone), methadone, or Vivitrol—to control your withdrawal symptoms until you are completely weaned off the drugs. That’s not as easily reduced to a New Year’s resolution as just stopping, but it may be more realistic.

Remaining sober also has a high relapse rate, but even if you start smoking or drinking or using drugs by the middle of February—or March, April, May, etc.—you don’t have to wait until next January to try again. All you need is the desire and the will to seek substance abuse treatment and support.

Medical disclaimer:

Chapters Capistrano strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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