Addiction vs. Habit: Know the Difference

 In Addiction, Articles

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.

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