Habits are easy to get into especially if you have a set routine every day. If you’re used to going to work and then the bar with co-workers, you might slowly develop a habit of drinking more often than you’d like. The same could be true with another drug. If you’re used to spending time with friends who smoke marijuana, you might develop a habit of smoking pot each time you’re with them, or more often.
How Are Habits Formed?
Habits can so easily get worse and worse, especially if you’re experiencing a positive feeling from the behavior. In fact, that’s exactly how a habit forms. According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business, habit continues because of a three-step process. The first is a cue or trigger that stimulates the behavior – whatever that is. Then, there’s the behavior itself. And finally, there’s a reward – a positive feeling, for example. The brain takes notice of things that make us feel good. Feelings are ways to embed a particular behavior into one’s memory.
Typically, what happens is that the brain starts working less and less. When you engage in behavior that feels routine, you don’t have to use your brainpower; it becomes habitual.
You might see how developing a habit can easily happen with drinking or drug use. The positive feeling or high that develops from the use of the substance stimulates the brain initially. Then, over time, your behavior becomes habitual and continues to engage in that particular behavior because of the positive feelings that arise as a result.
Difference Between Habit and Addiction
However, you should know that there is a difference between a habit and an addiction. An addiction is a disease of the mind. There are certain traits that distinguish an addiction from a habit. For instance, with an addiction, there is a certain amount of fantasy and obsession that takes place among those who are addicted to drinking or drugs. A habit might feel routine but it often doesn’t come with obsession or fantasizing about that particular behavior. When there is an overwhelming amount of thinking, worrying, and dreaming about drinking or getting high, there’s an indication that there might be a compulsion. An addict isn’t only getting high, but you’re thinking about getting high and he or she is planning the day around getting high. Fantasizing and daydreaming about using drugs or drinking frequently accompanies addiction.
Addiction can also be described as self-nurturing. The self-nurturing aspect of addiction is its illusion. Although a person is choosing to engage in drinking or drugging on seemingly his or her own terms, he or she is doing it at times when there’s a need for self-nurturing. When the stress is high, that’s the time to go to the bar. When the argument begins, that’s when to pull out the marijuana. And often for a teen with an eating disorder, this is also true. When the stress is high, that’s when to eat. Or when the argument happens, that’s when to not eat and control the amount of food eaten that night.
Causes of Addiction
Lastly, an addiction is a means of self-destruction. Addiction is always a pattern of destruction. In fact, addiction not only destroys the life around you – relationships, career, physical health, and so on – it’s also destroying yourself. And perhaps that’s where the destruction begins. Like a wheel with self-destruction at its center, the surrounding people, places, and things also feel the waves destruction too. All addictions lead to the spiritual, emotional, physical, and social destruction of the addict.
Learning about the difference between a habit and an addiction can help you recognize when a habit might be turning into an addiction. Of course, if you fear an addiction developing in your life, now would be the time to contact a mental health provider. Another way to prevent a habit from turning into an addiction is by breaking the behavior when you can. Instead of drinking after work with friends, perhaps limit your drinking to the weekends.
Habitual behavior with drinking or drug use is fertile ground for an addiction, especially for those who are genetically predisposed. If you’re concerned about an addiction developing, get professional support to prevent it.