Consider your morning routine. Perhaps you wake up to your alarm and run through the motions without thinking twice — wash your face, dress yourself, eat breakfast. Before you realize it, you are on your way to school or work, barely remembering that these activities occurred just minutes before. These are habits: behavior patterns we perform mindlessly that become cemented in our lives over weeks, months, or years of repetition.
While many habits are healthy (like brushing your teeth) or neutral (like double-checking that the door is locked when you leave the house), some habits are harmful — and some habits are addictive. Teen substance use is one such habit that can quickly become problematic. Substance use can start as a simple routine: a shot of liquor to ease nerves at a party, an Adderall to focus before an exam, a hit of marijuana from a vape pen to relax or sleep. First, your body begins to expect the drug in specific situations. Then, you build a tolerance, requiring more drugs or alcohol to get the same effect. And finally, you develop a dependence and cravings as your brain gets used to being drunk or high regularly.
Mental health struggles can work similarly. Pathways in the brain that regulate mood and emotion are out of balance, resulting in disorders like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or an eating disorder. The imbalances lead to negative behavior patterns — unintentional habits like self-doubt, fear responses, mood swings, poor nutrition, and neglected self-care.
Much like breaking any bad habit, overcoming substance use disorder or a mental health disorder requires breaking the problematic behavior patterns and replacing them with positive ones. It is often difficult enough to break a conscious habit — so how is it possible to overcome habits that you cannot control, like substance use and mental health struggles? This is where a dialectical behavior therapy program, or “DBT,” becomes essential.