Bad Habit vs Addiction

Author: Matthew Idle Editor: Hugh Soames Reviewed: Michael Por
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Bad Habit vs Addiction


We hear it often from friends and loved ones, joking that they are ‘addicted’ to coffee, sugar, or shopping. But are they addicted, or do they merely have a bad coffee habit? While we as humans are creatures of habit, whether good or bad, addiction can be considered one step further, taking the habit to an extreme and detrimental level. What is the real difference between a habit and an addiction, and how do they impact our minds and bodies?


Bad Habit Definition


Firstly, we must understand what we mean when we discuss a habit. A habit can generally be defined as an action or behavior which you do regularly and often, so a pattern of behavior is created over time.


Sometimes a habit is subconscious, meaning we do it without realizing it. Habits can be either beneficial or detrimental to our mental and physical well-being. In repeating such behaviors, again and again, we are creating pathways in our brains that are effortless to follow and which can become second nature to us.


This automation makes us more efficient at performing the habit. A useful way to tell if you have formed a habit is if it has become consistently automatic or routine without you having to think about it anymore, and it no longer feels like an accomplishment.


To create a habit, we follow the cue-routine-reward cycle. Let’s say, for example, that you have a habit of eating snacks while watching TV. First, we start with a cue or trigger, such as turning the TV on. The cue is followed by a routine, such as reaching for your snacks.


You may not even consciously associate turning on the TV as a trigger for snacking. Finally, you get the reward or outcome of eating tasty snacks, which can also mean that you may overeat. Repeat this pattern every day for enough days, and you have formed a habit, albeit a potentially bad one. The process also works to instill good habits into your life or to replace bad habits with good ones.


Addiction Definition


Addiction follows the same pathway of cue-routine-outcome that a habit does but is escalated – the habit becomes an addiction when it negatively impacts your day-to-day life and you find it difficult to stop the action that forms the habit.


Typically we think of addiction as overconsumption of alcohol, drugs, or food, or behaviors like shopping or gambling too much, but any bad habit can tip over into an addiction.


Signs that your habit has become an addiction may include: physical cravings, a tolerance to substances such as alcohol or drugs resulting in a higher quantity needed to make the user feel better, visibly declining physical health, continued repetition of a behavior despite the negative consequences, and withdrawal symptoms if someone is lacking the dose of alcohol, food, or drugs to which they have become accustomed.


Most importantly, addiction can have foundational and structural changes on the brain, which then impact the reward system in the brain, resulting in the brain being unable to handle situations without the dopamine hit of good feelings that the focus of their addiction supplies.


For example, you might have a glass of wine after dealing with a stressful day at work. A stressful day is a cue to drink wine, which makes you feel better emotionally. Drinking wine after work becomes a regular habit once you have several stressful days in a row, and soon your brain cannot cope on a physiological level with the stress at work without having a glass of wine, at which point it has become an addiction.


The dopamine response, the feeling good once you’ve had a drink, is the main difference here, as it is not present within habits. That the dopamine also leads to a substance tolerance and a required increased amount to get that same good feeling while experiencing withdrawal if they go without it is also something unique to addiction and not found in bad habits.


If you or a loved one is concerned about a bad habit becoming an addiction online therapy can help. The difference between online therapy for habits and addictions is that therapists are available 24/7 when you need them so you don’t have to wait until your weekly session to get the help you need. Press Here to get help today

Key Difference Between a Bad Habit and an Addiction


As well as the extremeness and the physiological changes that addiction can have, the other key difference between a bad habit and an addiction surrounds the ability to change it. A bad habit may take some willpower and determination to break but can typically be done alone without the help or support of others and is not necessarily a problem to the person performing the habit.


When do Bad Habits become Addictions?


An addiction, on the other hand often needs professional help and familial support to break, as it is very hard, if not near-impossible, to do so alone, with the addiction impacting both the addict and those around them.


The difficulty of breaking an addiction comes partly from the physical changes that an addiction, particularly an addiction to a substance like drugs or alcohol, can have on the brain11.A. B. CEO Worlds Best Rehab Magazine, Worlds Best Rehab | Best Addiction Treatment Rehabs in the World, Worlds Best Rehab.; Retrieved September 21, 2022, from As addiction changes the brain chemically, changing how it functions, the removal of the addictive substance often causes withdrawal symptoms and can make the addict very ill as a result.


There are many different ways of accessing help for addiction, many of which involve a combination of residential rehab, therapy and medical treatment. Anyone struggling with addiction should remember that there is no shame in asking for help and that you deserve the love and support of those around you. Studies have shown that those who seek help with addiction through treatment are much more likely to recover fully.


Overall, the difference between a bad habit and an addiction is defined in two ways. Firstly, that addiction is more consuming and demanding on a person than a bad habit, it is difficult to give up and typically harms their daily life.


Secondly, addictions have physiological impacts on the brain, whereas bad habits do not. Addictions have the power to rewire the brain and make it dependent on the addictive substance or behavior to feel happy22.S. Sussman and A. N. Sussman, Considering the Definition of Addiction – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved September 21, 2022, from They have a greater change in how our minds and bodies work fundamentally than bad habits do, and we often need professional and sometimes long-term support in order to overcome an addiction.


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Next: Is Addiction a Disease or Choice?

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    1.A. B. CEO Worlds Best Rehab Magazine, Worlds Best Rehab | Best Addiction Treatment Rehabs in the World, Worlds Best Rehab.; Retrieved September 21, 2022, from
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    2.S. Sussman and A. N. Sussman, Considering the Definition of Addiction – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved September 21, 2022, from
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