The Difference Between a Habit & an Addiction

When an individual takes up a new hobby or activity that becomes a habit, it can be difficult to know when they cross the line into making it an addiction. It is important to realize that addiction does not only refer to drugs and alcohol. You can be addicted to exercising, shopping, gambling, and more. Just because something seems healthy for you, such as exercise, does not mean it cannot form into an unhealthy addiction.In fact, crossing this boundary is quite easy to do, and most people don’t even realize it. This is why knowing the difference between a habit and an addiction is critical to make sure you are living a healthy and fulfilling life rather than sabotaging it.

Defining a Habit

What exactly is a habit? Technically speaking, a habit is a routine behavior or ritual that is difficult to give up the longer a person has been doing it. Habits can become second nature. For example, think of your routine in the morning as you get ready for the day.You most likely get up, take a shower, brush your teeth, get dressed, make breakfast, and leave for the day. Many people stick to this routine because it works for them, and they engage in multiple habits every single day without even realizing it.There is a difference between healthy habits and unhealthy habits. Typically, healthy habits are formed by individuals that have a heightened sense of self-awareness because they realize that the habit is good for their life and not harmful.The impact the habits have on the person’s future is seen as more positive, causing the person to engage in these behaviors consistently rather than engaging in those that may have a negative impact on the individual’s future. Most of our days consist of multiple habits.Even though we feel like we are making a decision, it is often actually a habit, according to Charles Duhigg, a New York Times reporter. Duhigg has also stated that habits are harder to break the longer you have been engaging in them. This is why unhealthy habits can be so hard to break and then replaced with new ones.

Defining an Addiction

According to the American Psychiatric Association, an addiction causes people to have an “intense focus on using a certain substance(s), such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life.” Addictions are much stronger than habits, causing them to take over a person’s obligations and responsibilities in favor of maintaining the addiction.Addiction is a chronic disease that changes a person’s thinking patterns and behaviors. This is why it can be so difficult to overcome addiction, as it literally rewires your brain. Even if the behavior is harmful to the person and their overall quality of life, they will continue the addiction to seek the rewarding feeling their brain gives them when the substance or behavior is engaged in. As stated above, drugs and alcohol are not the only things people can become addicted to. You can become addicted to other behaviors and practices, causing the same short and long term consequences that drug or alcohol addiction would bring you. Addiction functions by rewiring the reward circuit in your brain. It teaches your brain that pursuing and engaging in a certain substance or activity will produce dopamine, causing a feeling of euphoria.This causes the brain to consistently seek out the same substance or behavior over time over other sources of pleasure, such as enjoying work or spending time with family, and friends. An addictive behavior or substance is more likely to cause the person to repeat the action again and again, rather than those experiences that only seldom bring pleasure to the person’s brain and life.

Knowing If You Have a Habit or an Addiction

Being aware of when you have crossed the line from a habit into addiction is critical for catching the behavior and seeking help for it. To recognize if the activities or behaviors you are engaging in are habits or addictions, you can ask yourself the following:

  • Am I doing the behavior more than I planned?
  • Am I unable to stop engaging in the behavior even if I want to?
  • Do I feel anxious when I am unable to engage in the behavior?
  • Am I failing to fulfill my personal obligations and responsibilities at the expense of my behavior?
  • Are my loved ones confronting me about the behavior and expressing concern?
  • Am I hiding the behavior from others?
  • Have I experienced withdrawal symptoms when I attempt to stop?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, it may be time to take a step back and realize you have an addiction rather than a habit. This is when you should seek more professional help and treatment. An addiction can take a tremendous toll on your life, wreaking havoc on everything you have worked for. To summarize, when harmful habits begin bringing pleasure to the brain, you have crossed the boundary into addiction.

Crossing the boundary from habit to addiction is a lot easier than most people realize. Many are unaware of it until it presents itself directly in front of their face, often when they hit rock bottom or something drastic happens in their life such as losing a job, home, or relationship. Knowing the difference between a habit and an addiction can help you get help in time to stop the addiction in its tracks and work to improve your overall quality of life. If you or someone you know needs help with an addiction or knowing if their habits are forming into an addiction, Northstar Transitions is here to help. Contact them at (303) 558-6400 today.

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