Habits vs. Addiction

The human brain is one of the most complicated elements of the body known to scientists and researchers. For years, professionals have dived into the function of the brain to figure out the significant role it plays in the reality of emotions, reactions, habits, and mere existence.

For example, when an individual has an insecure attachment, they often struggle with personal insecurities and may not understand how to react when dealing with severe emotional challenges. A similar element applies to substance use disorders (SUDs) and those who struggle with the challenges that come with them. Therefore, it is vital to learn more about the human brain and understand why there is a difference between habits and addiction.

Reinforcement in the Brain

Inside the brain, one of the areas directed to help create and develop function is the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain deals with reactions and alarms individuals to avoid harmful or dangerous situations. The prefrontal cortex is also where the brain reinforces various emotions and behaviors.

As the brain develops through the younger years, it creates natural reactions and responses as it experiences various scenarios throughout life. Then, it turns those natural responses into habits and relationships with emotions. Using the natural response stimulator in the brain, individuals can form healthy habits. Unfortunately, this also means they can also create unhealthy habits.

Defining Habits

Habits are routines or regular behaviors that get more challenging to give up the longer those behaviors go on. The way people start their day is a great example of habits. Upon waking, many people brush their teeth, take a shower, and have a cup of coffee. Over time, the sequence of behaviors someone performs in the morning becomes consistent.

Not all habits are healthy. People can also develop unhealthy habits. Typically, healthy habits are formed by individuals with a heightened sense of self-awareness; they realize that the habit is beneficial in their lives. The impact the habits have on the person’s future is seen as positive, causing the person to engage in these behaviors consistently rather than engaging in those that may have a negative impact on their future.

A Deeper Look at Addiction

Addiction is much more powerful than a habit. When someone is struggling with addiction, they will sacrifice pieces of their life to continue to engage in drug or alcohol use. People with addiction experience different modes of thinking and altered brain functions.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), "[S]urges of dopamine in the reward circuit cause the reinforcement of pleasurable but unhealthy behaviors like taking drugs, leading people to repeat the behavior again and again.” When a person repeatedly uses drugs or alcohol, the dopamine that triggers in the brain lessens over time. As a result, the individual no longer feels the same high they used to, motivating them to continue to seek substances.

The Difference Between Habits and Addiction

The most crucial distinction between habits and addiction is the role of choice. With habit-forming behaviors, people have a choice to continue to engage or cease the behavior. When someone struggles with addiction, this becomes more challenging. A person may feel as if they do not have a choice anymore, and they must continue to use drugs or alcohol in order to survive. These factors are linked to the rewards system in the brain, explaining their overarching power in stripping people from the ability to make rational decisions.

Another significant difference between habits and addiction is the time and effort it takes to break behaviors. Changing or quitting habits requires minimal effort, time, and attention. Addiction requires more work to overcome. When trying to quit using drugs or alcohol and change their lives, individuals usually attend detox and a treatment facility. From there, they continue to manage their addiction through actions.

Can Habits Lead To Addiction?

Whether or not habits can lead to addiction is debated by researchers. According to a study published by The European Journal of Neuroscience, habits can lead to acute addictions. The study states that addiction to drugs or alcohol is “[T]he endpoint of a series of transitions from initial voluntary, or recreational, drug taking through progressive loss of control over drug use.” Looking at addiction through this lens, it can be said that habits may be the precursor to addiction.

It is important to note that not all habits will lead to addictive behaviors. It is crucial to recognize the dependent nature of some substances and behaviors – what may start out as harmless can lead to destruction. People do not begin using drugs or alcohol with the intention of becoming addicted, but over time, addiction develops. When individuals recognize that they have the choice to engage in substance abuse, in the beginning, they can stop before the choice is no longer theirs.

The terms habit and addiction are often used interchangeably. However, they are not the same thing. Habits are behaviors that can be healthy or unhealthy, take minimal time and effort to break, and still allow the power of choice. On the other hand, when someone struggles with addiction, they may feel that they have no choice in quitting. They must also make a continuous, long-term effort to heal. If you are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction and ready to heal, NorthStar Transitions is here to help. We can teach you how to disrupt your reflexive pattern of behavior, moving you beyond your addiction. Our facility uses evidence-based practices to help you find change while also teaching the life skills necessary to become an independent, healthy individual. Call NorthStar Transitions today at (303) 558-6400 to learn more about our program and how we can help you.

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