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 repeated behaviors. Given the difference in scope and treatment, though, it is important to distinguish between a troublesome habit and addiction.
One notable difference between habit and the disease of addiction is the amount of time and effort required to change the behavior. Altering habits requires minimal effort, time, and attention.
Addiction, on the other hand, often demands an integrative, long-term plan to treat physical symptoms like withdrawal as well as the emotional disconnect between body and behavior.
There is an ongoing debate among experts 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 affects your health, relationships, job, spirituality, and life to understand the difference between habit and addiction.
Habit Vs. Addiction: A Checklist
Consider these questions regarding your drug or alcohol use:
- Is your behavior having a negative impact—directly or indirectly—on your life?
- Do you repeatedly put yourself in risky situations?
- When you stop drinking or using for any length of time, do you experience withdrawal symptoms like anxiety or stress?
- 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. The disease of substance abuse manifests 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 or alcohol with the underlying desire to 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 like stress and depression with craving 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 like brushing teeth, the addict has almost no control over his or her desire to repeatedly engage in the addiction. Even when 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 difference between a bad habit and 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 live with addiction, stopping on your own will feel next to impossible. The physical withdrawal symptoms and period of emotional transition most often require support and an integrated treatment plan.
Addiction is a life-threatening illness. It is 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.
JourneyPure Can Help
If you or a loved one suffers from addiction, please contact JourneyPure At The River today. We offer medically-assisted detox services, individual and group counseling, and experiential therapies. Our friendly and knowledgeable staff is ready for you to get healthy and stay healthy.
Chris Clancy is the in-house Content Manager for JourneyPure’s Digital Marketing team, where he gets to explore a wide variety of substance abuse- and mental health-related topics. He has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist and researcher, with strong working knowledge of hospital systems, health insurance, content strategy, and public relations. He lives in Nashville with his wife and two kids.