Salam Dear Brother,
Thank you for contacting us with your question.
The answer to your question is, yes, addictions need to be broken bit by bit, gradually, on a slow and steady basis.
This is because going cold turkey and cutting off totally from the addictive substance might result in an imminent relapse due to compulsive withdrawal symptoms. The intensity of withdrawal will depend upon the severity of the addiction.
Over here I would like to point out that the approach and strategy that is adopted to curtail the addiction, should be based upon the nature and severity of the addiction, as well as upon the nature of the thing to which the person is addicted.
In cases of advanced addictions to substances, such as cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol, these definitely cannot be overcome overnight, by going cold turkey on the substance.
This is because the body has become extremely used to/dependent upon the substances in order to function normally, and sudden, total withdrawal from it might result in severe ill health that could push the addicted person into a relapse and perhaps even a possible overdose.
The wiser approach, which you have pointed out yourself, is to take it step by step:
(i) First, the addicted person should seek the help from immediate family and friends, by admitting to them that there is a grave problem that needs to be solved with their help. This approach guarantees a quicker recovery, as opposed to going into denial, and trying to secretly and solitarily tread the difficult path of complete addiction recovery.
(ii) Second, seeking the help of a qualified healthcare professional who has expertise and experience in helping people get over the addiction to that particular thing or activity to which the person is addicted.
This approach should also be applied to addictions to haram activities, such as watching pornography, masturbating, or committing adultery.
Lastly, when a Muslim intentionally and knowingly consumes something that is haram, such as drugs, cigarettes or alcohol, they should admit and acknowledge that they are committing a sin.
Therefore, an addict is committing a sin each time he consumes that substance to which he has become addicted, even though he has sincerely started to repent for it and is in the process of obtaining long-term treatment for getting rid of it permanently.
For this reason, a recovering addict who is in the process of receiving long-term treatment and therapy for overcoming his or her addiction to a particular physical substance, or to aharam activity, has to practice daily istighfar (seeking Allah’s forgiveness) for still dabbling into the haram substance or activity, because he still has to consider this to be a sin and a transgression of Allah’s commands.
Allah has forbidden the intentional consumption of even a little bit of something that He has made haram, therefore, even if an addict is repenting from his addiction to a haram substance, and tapering it off gradually, he still has to make daily istighfar for taking even a little bit of it, and he has to consider it to be a sin, without making excuses for it to make himself feel less guilty about doing it.
This istighfar can be in the form of spoken words (viz. the dua’s that the Prophet, peace be upon him, has prescribed), giving charity, and praying two units of nafl salah every day to seek Allah’s forgiveness.
The recovering addict has to constantly seek Allah’s forgiveness and help in getting rid of his addiction, on a daily or even an hourly basis. If he does constantly so with sincerity, Allah will not punish him for doing the sin while he recovers, insha’Allah.
By following a long-term strategy involving: connecting closely to Allah through fulfillment of all Islamic obligations, seeking His forgiveness sincerely every day (through heartfelt repentance), taking the support of close family and friends, consulting a qualified healthcare professional, and joining any available rehabilitation/recovery programs and support groups, he or she will be able to successfully get over their addiction on a permanent basis, insha’Allah.
I hope that the above advice is of help to you.
Allah knows best.
Salam and please keep in touch.