Addiction vs. Habit: Know the Difference

Habit and addiction are words that are frequently (and incorrectly) interchanged. But there’s a significant distinction between the two. A habit can be a negative or positive behavior. Addictions, on the other hand, are exclusively negative.

To identify whether a behavior is a habit or an addiction, you only need to pay attention to the amount of time it takes to stop the behavior in question.


What is a Habit?

Habits become habits due to triggering the reward center of the brain. When a behavior releases certain chemicals that the brain likes, it compels us to keep doing that behavior. Through repetition, the behavior becomes a habit.

An example of the brain’s system of reward would be when your alarm clock goes off in the morning. When the alarm clock rings it acts as a trigger. If you are in the habit of drinking coffee when you wake up, this is a routine. The result of consuming a stimulant (coffee) when starting your day gives your body and mind a jolt. The alertness you experience after consuming the coffee is the reward.


How Long Do Habits Take to Form?

Developing a habit can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days. On average, it takes approximately 66 days for a behavior to become a habit. Some studies suggest that it takes roughly 21 days to eliminate a habit, but this largely depends on not only the behavior but also reasons the behavior became a habit in the first place.

When a habitual behavior substitute for another behavior, such as when eating becomes a coping mechanism rather than nourishment, it can be difficult to break without resolving the underlying reason. The reason is often an underlying mental health issue that needs to be addressed.


How Do Bad Behaviors Become Habits?

Many behaviors are good habits. Exercising, brushing your teeth, going to work, etc. These types of behaviors also trigger the reward center of the brain. Typically, good habits can be adjusted with minimal effort.

Bad habits, on the other hand, serve an emotional function. For this reason they become encoded in brain. People who suffer from a substance abuse disorders constantly chase that “feel good” feeling. This causes them to feel emotionally empty when the addiction isn’t fed.

Certain substances, such as opiates, cause a physical sickness when the substance isn’t consumed. This can terrify the user and strengthen their dependency. With substances such as opiates, it’s incredibly difficult to quit without the aid of addiction and mental health professionals.


When Do Habits Become Addictions?

When a harmful substance is used as a coping mechanism, or to fill an emotional void, the brain feels rewarded – this is when habits become addictions. This cycle establishes a physiological connection in which the brain is rewired. It begins to acknowledge the “bad” habit as useful and vital.

Drinking a glass of wine after work may be a harmless habit. When it becomes an everyday necessity, one glass becomes a bottle, then the habit can easily become an addiction. Substance abuse is a serious issue that needs to be treated by trained addiction professionals.


This is Your Brain on Drugs

Regardless of what substance is being abused, the habitual use of any substance that over-stimulates the natural “feel good” chemicals produced in our brains can cause serious issues. The dopamine receptors of addicted individuals reduce over time, making it difficult for addicts to feel good without the addictive substance. This causes powerful withdraw symptoms that make it difficult to quit.

Being aware of the dangers of substance abuse is a step toward preventing usage. For people who are already addicted to drugs or alcohol it’s critical to help them identify and understand the underlying causes their substance abuse. Offer love, support, and understanding.

Enrolling in an addiction treatment center will provide them with a chance to rewire their brains and develop healthy habits.


Choosing the Right Addiction Treatment Center

The decision to seek help for addiction and substance abuse is commendable and courageous. It is the first step towards living a sober and happy life. A life where you’re in control. For many people who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction, enlisting the help of trained therapists and addiction professionals for treatment is a requirement.

Sorting through the abundance of treatment centers can be overwhelming. It’s necessary to make this part of the process free of hassle. Here are a few important questions to help you work through a complex and life-changing decision.


  1. Does this treatment center treat my addiction and/or behavioral health issues? Is the treatment program conducive to my lifestyle?

    Do you need the total submersion of Residential treatment? Or is the flexibility of an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) a better option for you? Many people in rehab still have to go to work and tend to family obligations. For these individuals, an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) may provide a much more sustainable option. When searching for an appropriate treatment center, it’s important to consider the decision
    based on your needs.

  2. How will the treatment center location affect me, my recovery, my family, and my job?

    Location is another important consideration when choosing the right substance abuse treatment center. You may prefer to leave your usual environment – away from the people and stresses that fed and enabled your addiction for so long. Others may feel like leaving would equate to running from their problems. These people find value in healing amidst the environment and circumstances that allowed them to nurture their substance abuse disorder. There is no right or wrong answer here. Everybody’s needs are different. Regardless, it is important to consider the location of your desired treatment center, as it plays a crucial role in the success of your long-term recovery.

  3. What is the treatment approach and philosophy?

    Does the facility addressing underlying mental health disorders along with treatment for addiction? People who struggle with substance abuse benefit from a clinical practice called dual diagnosis. Addiction is almost always a symptom of a larger mental or emotional problem that needs to be addressed. Another consideration when choosing a treatment center is their therapeutic offerings. Do they offer group therapy, individual therapy, family therapy, or a combination of all three? Is a 12-step approach used as part of the recovery model? There are many addiction treatment center options. Do some research, and find out which center provides the services that best suit your recovery needs. The goal is to get sober and healthy.

  4. What happens after treatment is over?

    Does the addiction treatment center offer as post-treatment plan for recovery? Does the facility in question offer support programs after you graduate? Is there a work placement program? Do they teach valuable life skills to prepare you to hit the ground running? Support systems can be vital to the success of long-term addiction recovery. Many people find added security in knowing that their treatment center has their back as they transition to the “real world.”


The Takeaway

No addiction treatment center is going to offer a one-size-fits-all solution. This is not a bad thing. Different people have different requirements. With a bit of research and careful planning, you can find the addiction treatment center that offers the services and support that’s right for you.