How Do Habits Become an Addiction?
Habit vs. AddictionThe main difference between addiction and habit is that an addiction often negatively impacts an individual’s daily life and may also feel impossible to control, whereas a habit is generally a routine or behavior that is difficult to give up but doesn’t overwhelm the individual’s life. Habits can be both positive and negative. For example, having a morning routine and daily habits of exercising, stretching, and meditating are considered positive habits. Conversely, a habit like biting your nails or picking at your skin can be considered a negative habit. 1
Furthermore, an addiction is often more intense than a habit. Habits can become an addiction disorder when an individual’s life starts to become negatively impacted by the routine or behavior, however. If this continues to go on, the individual can find it extremely difficult to stop or control the behavior, at which point it could be considered an addiction, depending on what the habit is. 2
How to Identify an Addiction
Identifying signs and symptoms of an addiction disorder can be extremely difficult, as many changes to a person’s mental, emotional, and physical health can be slow and gradual. However, there are some general signs that could indicate someone has an addiction. Some of the characteristics of drug or behavioral addiction include:
Priority ShiftOne of the behavioral signs of addiction may include a shift in priorities. Things that were once important suddenly seem to become less so to the individual. They may become disinterested in activities once found to be enjoyable as well. This shift in priority to caring about whatever substance they may be using can appear similar to an obsession. However, the difference between an obsession vs. addiction is the primary reason for engaging in the behavior.
Lack of ControlAnother behavioral sign of addiction may be lack of control. The individual may struggle with controlling their drug or alcohol use, or engaging in behaviors of non-substance addiction, such as sex, gambling, video games, etc.
Increased ToleranceA standard sign in the process of addiction is an increase in tolerance. This may mean the individual establishes a physical addiction in which they need an increased amount of the substance or behavior in order to gain the same effect. For example, someone who is physically addicted to alcohol may find that they started off drinking five beers a night, but now need 10 in order to feel the same effect.
Increased Risk-Taking BehaviorThe psychology of addictive behaviors often includes an increase in risk-taking behaviors. This means the individual may exhibit riskier behaviors while engaging, or in order to engage, in their addiction type. For example, engaging in unprotected sex despite knowledge of the risks, or drinking and driving.3
WithdrawalSomeone who has a physical addiction can also experience signs and symptoms of withdrawal. Both chemical addiction and non-substance addiction can include symptoms of withdrawal. While types of substance abuse often cause more physical withdrawal symptoms, behavioral addiction withdrawal can also occur. Someone who experiences a behavioral addiction, such as some types of eating disorders, may exhibit an increase in anxiety and depression when going through withdrawal.
Types of Addictions
Chemical AddictionsChemical, or physical, addictions include the use of substances and are often considered the most common types of addiction. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, as of 2020, alcohol was one of the most common addictions among adults in the United States. 4
Besides alcohol, other types of substance abuse include:
- Opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl
- Prescription drugs like Oxycontin, Percocet, and Vicodin
- Amphetamines, such as Adderall, Ritalin, and methamphetamine
- Hallucinogens, including LSD, PCP, and psilocybin
- Inhalants, which include aerosols, gasses, and nitrites
Behavioral AddictionsBehavioral addiction generally doesn’t include the use of substances, although it can in some cases. Chemical and behavioral addictions can also be co-occurring. Some of the most common non-drug addictions include:
- Food addiction
- Sex addiction
- Internet or video game addiction
- Work addiction
- Exercise addiction
- Spiritual obsession
- Self-harm, such as cutting, burning, or other pain-seeking behaviors
- Gambling addiction
The psychology of addictive behaviors can include the difference between obsession vs. addiction. An obsession is defined as a routine that is part of everyday life that is often rooted in fear, which is that not engaging in that routine will have negative consequences. On the other hand, an addiction can be defined as engaging in the use of substances or behaviors in order to escape undesirable feelings, emotions, or situations. 5
How Does Addiction Affect the Brain?
Addiction most commonly affects the pleasure centers and reward pathways in the brain. When we experience something pleasurable, our brains release chemicals, like dopamine, that make us feel good. In the process of addiction, both substances and behaviors can cause an increased release of these chemicals.6
However, over time, these chemicals can change the structure of the brain circuits, making it difficult for the brain to naturally produce these chemicals and also require an increased need for the chemical. It is important to seek treatment for addiction as soon as possible, as the changes made to the brain have a better chance of being reversible the sooner that you are treated. 7
Treatments for Substance Use Disorder
Residential TreatmentTypical residential treatment programs can range between 30 to 90 days, with some even lasting over a year or more. These environments provide a safe and supportive, substance-free place for individuals to work on and engage in their recovery. During residential treatment, individuals will most likely attend group therapy sessions, individual therapy, self-help meetings, and possibly receive medication management.
TherapyTreatment for substance use disorders often include the use of behavioral therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), motivational interviewing (MI), contingency management, social skills training, and family or couples counseling.
MedicationMedication may be used in the treatment of substance use disorders for various reasons. Antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication may be used to help alleviate and treat mental health disorders that often exist concurrently with substance use disorder. Medications such as naltrexone, Antabuse, Suboxone, and methadone may be used to assist with the management of withdrawal symptoms and cravings. 8
Support GroupsSupport groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and SMART Recovery are frequently used in the treatment of addiction. These self-help groups provide peer support and accountability for those struggling with drug addiction behavior or alcohol and control issues.
Treatments for Behavioral Addictions
TherapyTherapy is one of the most common ways of treating behavioral addiction. Engaging in therapy can help those struggling with behavioral addictions overcome their emotional difficulties and learn how to make positive changes in their lives. The most common therapies used to treat behavioral addictions include CBT, group therapy, support groups, and family or couples therapy.
SSRI AntidepressantsAlong with therapy, SSRI antidepressants can also be used to treat emotional symptoms, such as depression. It is important to always contact a medical provider for information on medication management.
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Soledad House provides a safe and supportive environment focused on recovery. For more information about Soledad House’s program or information on addiction treatment, call or email us today. We will be with you every step of the way, enabling you to pave the way for a healthy and fulfilling future.
- 2 https://online.alvernia.edu/articles/habit-vs-addiction/
- 5https://psychcentral.com/pro/exhausted-woman/2015/04/the-difference-between-an-obsession-and-an-addiction – 1
- 7 https://www.webmd.com/connect-to-care/addiction-treatment-recovery/how-does-addiction-affect-the-brain