HALT Addiction Relapse

Thursday, November 3rd, 02022 at 14:41 UTC

HALT has come-up at the office in the past. We wanted to write this article both for our future-selves and others to remind us and make it easy to find and reference. This is NOT a guide to addiction recovery, it is a look at some of the causes of relapse and how they affect our work and ways to prevent these bad habits.

HALT is an acronym used in addiction relapse prevention. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. These are four main reasons for relapsing. We wanted to dig into these issues, not for addition relapse, but more for relapsing to bad work habits.

Why did we forget to do something, why weren’t our meetings productive, why did planning fail, why did we cut corners, etc. If the root cause is less about long-term problems (company culture), and more about short-term problems (like HALT), there are easy ways to fix it. We first identify the causes of HALT and setup better defaults to prevent bad habits.

These four categories are also why other personal goals fail. Why we fail at lossing weight, getting fit, finishing reading that book, or learning a new skill. When we are hungry, angry, lonely or tired, we go with what we know. The inertia of the staus-quo prevents a lot of change. Addressing these four factors might be away to help break that cycle!


When we are hungry our body is craving energy. If we aren’t smart about it, we can easily relapse for what your body is calling for. That could be sugar, caffeine or something else.

Preventing hunger can be as simple as having healthy snacks on hand. We usually reach for what is closest and fastest. Unfortunately, that’s probably candy or chocolate. Removing these items might solve the problem of unhealthy eating, but it doesn’t solve the problem of hunger and probably quickly ramps up anger making us hangry!

Knowing that we make bad decisions when we are hungry, why do we schedule important meetings with decisions right before lunch?

Take the time to plan the day around eating. Never let your hunger get the best of you, have some food around to ‘graze’ on. Make sure you have healthy ‘defaults’ since when you are hungry, you are not in the best state-of-mind to make decisions.

Hunger can also be for emotional needs. A hunger for belonging, participating, creating or community.

Once you identify times where hunger gets the best of you, figure out ways to prevent it and make better defaults.


Obviously, if you are hungry that leads to hangry and we can lash out. Being angry is ok and expected, but when we are unable to deal with the underlying causes, that’s when it becomes a problem.

Resentment is a long-running anger directect at someone or something. There are methods to deal with resentment. It is easy to see how this can lead to relapse.

(Precieved) helplessness or powerlessness is usually the source for anger. Figuring out that imbalance, discussing it and negotiating is a one way to resolve the anger issues.

Being open about projects, workload, expectations can all prevent this helplessness and being included in the decisions reduces the powerlessness. These should then also reduce any anger.

Sometimes, the negotiations are not enough and we need to walk away for awhile or even permanently.

Minimizing surprises, helplessness and empowering people are all ways to reduce anger. Increasing ownership can reduce bad decisions and bad habits.


These last few years, we’ve been working remotely, freelance, alone and distance over many time zones. All this can take a toll on your mental health. Your friends, family and co-workers might be just an icon away, but that’s it – they are an icon, far away. We yearn for close connections and their abscesnce, especially for a long time, can be problematic.

Being lonely and not having support makes it easy to back-slide into bad habits. When we code, if no one else is reviewing, we get lazy. If no one else is there to push you todo your best, you don’t. Some tasks are solo-tasks, but that doesn’t mean you need to be lonely. Bouncing ideas around at the water-cooler helps. In an all remote, all digital world, this can be problematic. Be aware that you might be lonely and not realize it. Figure out ways to reduce the risk like co-working spaces, lunches out of the home/office and try to meet other folks.

People can be lonely even in a crowd. Just because we’re all together doesn’t mean people have other things going on in their heads. Reaching out is important, because if we’re lonely and not supported, we’ll relapse into bad habits.


Much like hunger, being tired is something we can directly control. Sure, there are plenty of external forces like family life, illness and others that grind us down. Building better sleep habits, resting, exercising, taking sick days and generally looking after yourself all minimize any chance of relapse.

If people are tired, we can postpone meetings and avoid any decisions (when possible). It might also be time for a break. Get some fresh-air, change projects or even go on vacation to clear your head.

Much like hunger, when we’re tired, we tend to get angry. That combination then becomes even more problematic when trying to prevent relapse to bad habits.

Good Habits

HALT are four warning signs that we could slip back (even just temporarily) into bad habits. As an institution and individual, we can try to implement good habits. That helps to prevent and minimize bad habits or simply having the good habits so ingrained, if/when you relapse making the choice of the good habit is easier than making a bad one.

If you are trying to eat heathier, a bad habit relapse would be reaching for the candy. The good habit of only having healthy snacks makes it easier when relapsing to make the better choice.

Making sure meetings are when people are not hungry (lunch time) or when people are not tired (too early or late in the day) is the better habit. Why risk the chance of making a bad decision?

Pier programming, working together, mentoring, code reviewing are other ways to catch any bad habits before they become routine and sneak through. This requires more people and less, but higher quality, output. It can improve loneliness and increase discussion.

Moving Forward

Now that we are aware of some of the causes of relapse we will be more diligent in preventing us from getting into the major HALT situations. Being aware is the first step for improvement.