How a Habit or Pastime Can Turn Into an Addiction

Habits are activities, actions or behaviors that people get used to doing. It becomes wired into one’s mind and is performed automatically. Habits are developed over time, on purpose or even unintentionally. Once you began to act or react a certain way to events or situations, you are training your brain to develop some sort of a reflex for the next time it happens. 

Forming habits can be positive or negative. You can develop activities to become good habits to practice every day. But at some point, there are habits that are developed from past times and random experimentations, which turn negatively into addictions. 

What is a Habit? 

Habits are your routine or regular behavior — a loop that goes on. For example, your morning rituals, the way you hold your cup, how you want your coffee, eating dessert after every meal or even how you start and end your day. All these habits are formed throughout your life. It is something that becomes consistent. They can change over time, but sometimes, they can be difficult to modify or stop. 

Positive habits arise when people are aware of their behaviors. These are often the things you want to practice and adopt yourself, like having a balanced diet, exercising every day, meditating, reading books and more. On the contrary, negative habits can be formed due to a lack of consciousness that you are forming a habit out of an activity. You are starting to adopt it as a regular practice without you knowing or wanting it and it is causing distractions to your way of life. 

How are habits formed?

The brain is solely responsible for forming habits. It starts with a psychological pattern called a “habit loop”, where you have the trigger, which can be an event or emotions that activates the habit. It sends signals to the brain to automatically respond. Afterwards, the brain will execute the habit, then the brain will seek the reward or result that it will remember. With this reward, the brain knows that whenever the same instance comes up, the activity or reaction must be executed to get the same reward. Like when you are happy you clap your hands hard to express, or when you’re sad, you eat ice cream or read a book or take a walk. But sometimes, it gets deeper than these things.   

You form habits by regularly doing something at a certain time or situation. Both positive and negative habits are formed this way. Sometimes, when you are caught in an unwanted or unpleasant situation, your brain will seek that feeling of reward over and over to find comfort, be it an activity, food or substance. This, in turn, can be an unhealthy way to form habits, which can result in addiction.  

What is an Addiction? 

Addiction, simply put, is not being able to function properly without pleasurable activity or most likely substance. It starts with the need or urges to do certain activities to gain a desired state of mind and it continues due to one’s lack of control or sufficient willpower to stop. But medically and scientifically speaking, addiction is a psychological state which is a potential result of a person’s aim to cope with and/or escape discomfort. 

Often more powerful than habits, addiction can negatively impact the quality of life. People suffering from this condition are willing to sacrifice basically everything for it. 

There are two common types of addictions: 

  • Chemical addiction – involves substances, like cigarettes, drugs and alcohol, as well as sugar, caffeine and even several types of pain meds or opioids.  
  • Behavioral addiction – refers to activities that one carries out, that might bring artificial pleasure or comfort. This can include gambling, hoarding stuff or excessive eating and even excessively using your phone.

Depending on what they are trying to cope with, people might seek substances or activities that excite or calm them. During these activities, the brain releases chemicals, like dopamine or serotonin, which are neurotransmitters that allow the feel-good feeling. These become the “reward” that the brain seeks repeatedly, and at some point, the brain relies on them when it senses discomfort or the need for pleasure. 

When Habit Becomes Addiction 

Habits can be a good thing if you are aware of them and when you are trying to establish a healthy routine. However, studies suggest that anything that stimulates a person can turn into addictions in hindsight, which can impact all aspects of your life — physical, mental, social and economic. Something as little as a pastime activity or experimental way of trying to cope with things can become a habit, and if uncontrolled, can become an addiction. 

Habits that involve addictive substances, like smoking, drinking alcohol and drug use have obvious risks of advancing into addiction and substance abuse disorder. In the same way, other activities, like using the internet or shopping can also develop into behavioral addiction.  These activities provide a sense of “reward”, or pleasure and comfort to the brain, often for a short span of time. But they do not offer long-term benefits and can even impact a person’s life negatively. In many cases, people develop serious addiction through this without even knowing it.

How to recognize if your habits are becoming an addiction?

Awareness is key to addressing addiction. It is important to be mindful of your activities and habits. Acknowledge if something is becoming a distraction to your daily life, or if you have been developing dependence on it. See if your actions provide you with long-term benefits. 

It also helps to see if you are exhibiting any symptoms of addictions, including: 

  • Intense craving and feelings of unease and discomfort without the substance/activity
  • Needing an increasing amount of time to do an activity or increasing the volume of a substance to gain the same feeling
  • Experiencing difficulty in managing your life, including socializing, work and normal daily activities
  • Reduced interest in other activities
  • Not being able to control or stop your habits
  • Getting withdrawal symptoms whenever you attempt to stop

If you feel like your habits are turning into an addiction, it is important to seek help as early as possible. Get diagnosed by professionals to find the right help and treatment. There are rehabilitation centers that can help you address your chemical and behavioral addictions, like an inpatient drug rehab center in New York, as well as in other states in the U.S. 

Don’t Wait Until Your Habits Become Addictions

It is normal for humans to develop habits out of the urge to live life even with a small bit of certainty and comfort. Your habits help you act and react. The brain has the ability to form connections and learn what to do in certain situations. This can be very powerful and if developed healthily, your habits can empower you to cope and go through life with resilience. Adopt and develop healthier habits. Practice mindfulness to avoid turning mundane habits into addiction. On the earliest signs of addiction, do not be afraid to seek help and professional assistance.