A few years ago, a friend of mine decided to quit smoking. She didn’t follow any pre-set plan, like Nicotine Anonymous, or do any research. Instead, she just quit. She also took up running, and around the same time started dating someone new—someone who didn’t smoke. She’s been cigarette-free ever since.

We tend to think that stopping an addictive behavior means joining a group, seeing a therapist, going to a treatment center, or taking a medication that helps with cravings. It may come as a surprise to you—it certainly surprised me—that some people break addictions without any help.

It turns out that my friend instinctively did what these “natural recoverers” often do to break addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling, and other problems. Many natural recoverers take these two steps:

  • They find a new hobby, challenge, or relationship to help fill the void left by the addiction. It may be something they liked doing before the addiction took over, or something new. Whatever it is, it provides new meaning in their lives.
  • They start exercising. This is important for two reasons. One, exercise is a natural antidepressant. It relieves stress and helps you think more clearly. Two, exercise prompts the body to release its own psychoactive substances—endorphins—that trigger the brain’s reward pathway and promote a feeling of well-being.