Addictions vs. Bad Habits


Many of us engage in habits and routines that become second nature to us. Actions like waking up at a certain time or biting our nails are habits we either create or fall into. How do you tell the difference between an unhealthy habit and an addiction? This can be difficult since both are repetitive behaviors. Positive habits can become tools for survival, but some habitual behaviors can develop into harmful addictions.  

A habit is a choice. It’s a pattern of behavior that occurs over time because of repetition. By doing something over and over, our brain will eventually do it automatically. One example is our morning routine. Even though we are not consciously thinking about it, we brush our teeth, start our coffee and get dressed for the day.  Our brain automatically sends signals to perform these tasks. Habits can be negative or positive, but they are not usually destructive. 

To find out the difference between a habit and an addiction you will need to honestly asses your behavior. Taking time to identify how your behavior is affecting your health, relationships, job, spirituality and life can help you determine if the actions you are reviewing are habits or addictions.  

Consider the following five questions to help you determine the difference:

1. Is this behavior having a negative impact, directly or indirectly, on your life?

2. Are you placing yourself into risky situations?

3. When you stop this behavior or chemical for a period of time, do you experience withdrawal symptoms like anxiety or increased stress?

4. Have you taken steps to hide your behavior?

5. Have you unsuccessfully tried to stop this behavior on your own?

Answering ‘yes’ to any of these questions may indicate an addiction. Addiction is a complex physical disease influencing the brain that includes behavioral flexibility, craving and loss of impulse control. The addiction cycle can create pathways in the brain connecting the relief of negative emotions like stress, anxiety and depression with chemical or behavioral impulses of the addiction. Addiction can become a life threatening illness and requires intervention to break the cycle. Addictions can be to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, food or other behaviors, which can change your brain chemistry and can become harmful. 

Talking to your health care provider, counselor or peer support group can help you begin to make the changes necessary to address the addiction that controls your life and create negative consequences. If you need to find yourself a primary care provider to begin having these conversations, call Lovelace Care Concierge at 505.727.2727 to schedule an appointment.

Submitted by: Kym Halliday Clear RN, BSN / Manager Outpatient Programs, Lovelace Women’s Hospital



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