Addiction vs Habit – Recognizing the Dangers

From always eating cereal for breakfast to never going to bed before reading a few pages of a book in progress, there’s a good chance you go through dozens of habits each day without even realizing it. Habits form in the brain via a three-step process: First, something cues or triggers your brain to go into auto-pilot, then you participate in the action that’ll eventually become a habit and finally, you’ll receive a reward that makes your brain remember it likes that action in the future.

It takes an average of 66 days for habits to become encoded in your brain, but not all of the habits you pick up are good ones. Some can turn into harmful addictions. Study the infographic below and learn more about how some people fall victim to ultimately destructive habits.

Why Habits Can Be Dangerous

As habits develop, the brain starts working less and less. In some cases, this is advantageous, because it means we can devote more brainpower to tasks that really need it. Statistics say we aren’t thinking about what we’re doing 40 percent of the time. Bad habits offer an emotional or biological reward, and that’s a major reason why it’s often not possible to follow the advice someone gives you when they exasperatedly say, “Just stop it.”

Some habits are arguably unhealthy, but perhaps not dangerous. Always eating chocolate while watching TV is an example. However, it’s also very easy for a bad habit to escalate and become an addiction. A person might develop a habit of always having a glass of red wine after work, which seems like a harmless choice. That habit could potentially rewire the brain and make it think alcohol is not only a good thing, but necessary for getting through the stressful situations life often brings. Nearly one in 10 Americans are addicted to substances, and thereby at risk for experiencing changes in the physical makeup and functionality of their brains.

How Addictive Substances Affect Our Perceptions of Pleasure

Drugs and alcohol don’t affect the brain in exactly the same ways, but generally, they interfere with the parts that recognize pleasurable things. When we do things we enjoy, our brains release a neurotransmitter called dopamine.

People also may find they no longer get as much enjoyment from the things they once loved, and would prefer to depend on their addictive substances of choice. That’s because they could release up to 10 times more dopamine than the healthy activities that once brought pleasure. Over time, substances might reduce the number of dopamine receptors, making it harder for people to function without the things that caused their addiction.

How to Know if You’re Addicted

It can be difficult to determine whether a bad habit has transformed into an addiction, but there are several things you can ask yourself. Do you feel like you couldn’t fit in if you stopped using substances? Have you tried to quit using them, but found you weren’t able to follow through? Has your substance use harmed your relationships with loved ones, colleagues or teachers? If so, think strongly about reaching out to an addiction specialist for help overcoming your harmful habits.

Many people don’t even realize their bad habits are turning into addictions, and it often takes a while to repair the damage such addictions cause. However, if you’re struggling with a destructive habit you can’t break on your own, professional help may aid you in winning the battle.

Megan Ray Nichols

Megan Ray Nichols

Freelance Writer. Amateur Astronomer. Science enthusiast. She loves to travel. Bookworm and a huge fan of all things nerdy, geeky and unusual.
Megan Ray Nichols

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