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Habit vs. Addiction: 4 Questions To Determine The Difference

How do you know if you have developed an unhealthy habit or if you are actually suffering from addiction? Determining the difference between the two can be difficult since both grow out of consistently repeated behaviors. Given the difference in scope and treatment, it is important to distinguish between a troublesome habit and the manifestation of an addiction.

One noticeable difference between habit and the disease of substance abuse addiction is the amount of effort and time required to change the behavior. Altering habits requires minimal effort, time, and attention. On the other hand, addiction often demands an integrative, long-term plan to treat negative physical symptoms like withdrawal as well as the emotional disconnect between body and behavior.

There is still an ongoing debate in some circles about whether the abuse of drinking and drugs represents the development of troublesome habitual behavior or addiction. As a human being, you are naturally drawn to habitual patterns because repetition creates familiarity and comfort. Positive habits can even become tools of survival. Sometimes, however, habitual behaviors take a dark turn and develop into addictions. Recovery requires that you honestly assess your behavior and how it is affecting your health, relationships, job, spirituality, and life to understand the difference between habit and addiction.

Carefully consider these questions regarding your drug or alcohol use:

  1. Is your behavior having a negative impact, directly or indirectly, on your life?
  2. Are you repeatedly putting yourself in risky situations?
  3. When you stop drinking or using for any length of time, do you experience withdrawal symptoms like anxiety or stress?
  4. Have you taken steps to hide your behavior or have you repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, tried to stop drinking or using on your own?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you likely suffer from addiction.

A habit is a learned and ingrained association between a stimulus (or incentive) and a response (or behavioral reaction) manifested consciously or subconsciously to achieve a goal.

Addiction is more complex than habitual behavior. The disease of substance abuse manifests the physical symptoms of intense craving, loss of impulse control, and behavioral flexibility. Addictions are physiologically developed and reinforced in the brain each time we use drugs alcohol with the underlying desire to numb, escape discomfort or endure emotional turmoil.  Pleasure-seeking patterns such as drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes can create neural pathways in your brain connecting the relief of negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, and depression with craving and and impulsive desire. While harmless in moderation, any behavior that successfully, consistently, and physiologically numbs or “quiets” emotion, trauma or depression, can develop into an addiction.

Both habit and addiction involve the relationship of cause and effect, but intermittent reinforcement is a common thread among all addictions. Although you can’t always predict the outcome of your behavior, you continue to come back for more. Unlike a habit such as brushing our teeth, you have almost no control over our impulsive desire to repeatedly engage in an addiction. Although addictive substance abuse negatively affects your relationships, job and health, you are unable to stop the behavior.

Because it can be difficult to recognize the underlying source that drives these negative behaviors, diagnosing addiction can be challenging. Understanding the the difference between a bad habit and an addiction is key. If a behavior is negatively affecting your life and happiness, it seems obvious that you should stop, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. If you are suffering from addiction, stopping on your own will feel next to impossible. The physical withdrawal symptoms and period of emotional transition most often require support and integrated treatment plan.

Addiction is a life-threatening illness; it’s critical to seek professional help.

Do you believe that you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol or drug addiction? If your answer is yes or you want to know more, please call an addiction specialist at JourneyPure At The River to seek expert advice regarding your situation.