For many of us, bad habits are like bad men (or women). We know we shouldn’t have anything to do with them, but hot damn, they can be as irresistible as a plate of fresh-from-the-oven brownies. Not in my case, of course. I’m totally married -- no bad boys for me. But when the desire for something deliciously naughty takes hold, it can seem nearly impossible to break free from its clutches. (Note the strategic placement of the word “nearly.” Yeah, I’m such a buzzkill, right?) 

Yes, my friends, it's possible to summon up the will to stop doing something of questionable benefit. Bad habits run the gamut from mostly harmless (biting your fingernails) to the seriously dangerous (illicit drug use). Chances are good you know just how detrimental your own beloved bad-behavior is… but probably don’t want to admit it. Although it can be hard to face the thought of quitting something you relish, many habits are game-changers in terms of long-term health and happiness. We want you to be the picture of awesomeness for decades to come. So take a look at these excuses you’ve likely batted around when trying to summon the will to quit your vice, and see if they help you turn the corner.

But… I tried to quit already and it was too hard. Any addict knows that kicking a habit is an ongoing process, to varying degrees. I’ve known people who gave up alcohol decades ago who still crave a drink on a daily basis. One of the many challenges is being able to recognize why your life will be better without something and summoning up the self-control to make it happen. Finding a support system is also key to habit-breaking success.

But… I’m not hurting anyone else. It may seem like bad habits only affect you, but plenty do have a ripple effect onto family and friends. For example, lots of people don’t see the point of exercise and good nutrition. Unfortunately, loved ones are directly impacted when someone they care about gets sick with one of the preventable diseases The Centers for Disease Control And Prevention attributes to obesity, such as heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer.

But… I can’t help myself. Scientifically speaking, this isn’t too far from the truth. The National Institutes of Health recognizes the role of dopamine in making a deliciously bad habit feel that much better. Basically, dopamine is released by the brain when you’re doing something you enjoy, so later when your body starts to crave that “fix” again you revert back to said bad behavior. Our brains are equipped with other tools to overcome this urge, though, so keep on trucking toward the finish line, or find another way to encourage healthy dopamine release, such as taking up a new hobby.

But… I’m still young, so I have plenty of time to quit. Ditching a bad habit is a good idea at any age, but you’ll get the most bang for your health buck if you quit while you’re still young. The American Cancer Society helps would-be nonsmokers by emphasizing proof that a former smoker’s risk of coronary heart disease drops to the same as a lifelong nonsmoker only 15 years after quitting tobacco. The same concept goes for all variety of bad habits, from eating artery-clogging fried foods to working a hundred hours a week.

But… my friends still do it. Wise grandmas everywhere would tell you that a true friend will find another way to spend time with you that doesn’t involve drinking/gambling/drugs or whatever else is having a bad effect on you.

But… I know a 95-year-old who drinks, smokes and eats fast food to excess, and she’s completely fine. Exception, meet rule. Everyone knows someone like this who manages to buck the odds and come out on top despite a lifetime of poor health or bad behavior. For every single person you know with this type of good luck or genes or magic beans or whatever else keeps them going, you’re probably going to know several dozen others who aren’t so lucky.

But… my bad habit isn’t really that serious. Remember when I mentioned fingernail-biting? It may not stack up against the big bad habits that comprise drug and alcohol abuse, but it can cause skin infections and increase your risk of illness because germs are directly transferred from fingers to mouth. So, if you think something’s not good for you, it probably isn’t.

Now that you’ve accepted that a change needs to be made, it’s time to make it happen. No matter what your vice is, you can come out on the other side, especially with support from family, friends or an appropriate organization. Figure out what your prize is (health, happiness, financial security) and keep your eye trained squarely on it.


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