As humans, we are all naturally inclined to develop habits. That is the way we work naturally, given the nature of our minds. Our minds easily enable us to pick up patterns of behavior and constantly though sometimes unknowingly, repeat doing the same things.
This is how we learn new things and how we intelligently function. But it can also work against us when we’re not being deliberate in the behaviors that we act on. Through this, the reality of addiction has become prevalent in our midst. Every bad habit or addiction began as a seed of behavior that was simply and repeatedly reinforced.
There’s a very thin line that separates a habit from addiction even though both of them grew out of constancy. A behavior repeated day in and day out could be all it takes to reinforce addiction.
Addictions mostly towards the destruction of an individual’s natural lifestyle. In medical terms, it’s considered to be a disease. A disease that once it bites you, you’ll have no easy way out despite your wish to be free of it. But overcoming addiction is also not impossible if you are determined to quit. It must be reinforced by the external environment for a person not to fall into the devious arms of relapse. Overcoming addiction demands a great deal of work.
For addiction treatment to become successful, which usually needs specialized treatment, compared to simply changing unhealthy habits, there needs to be a clear distinction between the two. What is the difference between an addiction and a habit?
Habits are a very natural human tendency. We are all naturally drawn to creating habits through a pattern known as a habit loop. An activity becomes a habit when the brain considers the trigger to be rewarding. For example morning activities such as brushing teeth, taking a bath, prepare coffee, etc. Over some period of time, the sequence of such behaviors tends to be consistent with people. This enables the brain to remember the activity loop or the sequence of actions leading to the feeling of gaining the reward. But habits can either be good or bad.
Behaving in a certain way all seem to be a conscious choice and decision, or at least that is what we tell ourselves. But in fact, there are actions we are inclined to do more of due to how our brain’s exposure to it registers an exciting response. By repetitive exposure to the cue, habits are born.
Some research says that it takes an average of 66 days to form a habit, while it takes 21 days to break it. Forming a habit can vary from one person to another, depending on the individual’s brain response to the trigger, but the bottom line is, all habits serve a benefit that the brain recognizes on its own.
Good habits such as exercising, meditation, and eating healthy are well and good. Bad habits, on the other hand, benefits the individual by filling a specific biological or emotional need. This need is often unconscious or at least, not at the forefront of our conscious awareness.
In cases when a person unconsciously has an unmet emotional need, when the brain recognizes a trigger that seeks to fill it, it will usually make it easier for the bad habit to be developed. Often, bad habits can arise out of stress, too. When changing habits, if the underlying condition remains unaddressed, changing the bad habit itself can become a futile effort.
Unhealthy habits can arise out of either our conscious or unconscious will to do something, but addictions are triggered by some physiological connection to a source or substance.
Social drinking can start as an unhealthy habit, but if alcohol is consistently consumed in very large amounts and being drunk is becoming more of the goal of the individual every single time, then it develops into alcohol addiction.
Addiction is often borne out of an unhealthy habit. Habits turn into addictions the moment that the brain labels a harmful trigger or substance as being beneficial. In this case, the brain does a process of rewiring the bad habit, making it appear useful or beneficial to you when it is not. Harmful substances such as alcohol, tobacco, or drugs can affect the natural pattern of the reward circuits, labeling the source to be pleasurable and ultimately a need – something you can’t live without.
When addiction sets in, doing usual, pleasurable activities pales in comparison to satisfying the addiction. This is because addictive substances can spike your dopamine levels up to 10x more than natural rewards. When an addicted person tries to quit the trigger, they experience withdrawal symptoms that are very hard to get past, so they fall into a relapse and again find themselves unable to escape the source of addiction.
If something is merely an unhealthy habit, making the change on your own is doable. When getting over unhealthy habits, you need to put in the effort to change your environment and be determined enough to monitor your behavior until you have made a new or modified habit.
People who are addicted usually need to seek a health professional for guidance, often ending up in rehabilitation centers or support programs. Being in an external environment that supports your full recovery is key to overcoming addiction. Addiction may feel impossible to overcome and is rarely something people can do simply on their own.