What’s the Difference Between a Habit and an Addiction?


As we all try to manage our “new normal,” it’s possible to develop new routines or habits to cope with stress. Some of these habits may be healthy, while others can actually worsen our mental health.

Studies have shown that, on average, it takes 66 days to form a habit. Over those two months, a person will experience a process called the “habit loop.”

The habit loop refers to a cue that causes your brain to perform the habit. Since most habits are pleasurable or beneficial to an individual, the action leads to a positive feeling that reinforces the behavior. As the behavior continues, it becomes increasingly difficult to stop it.

For many people, a habit stays a habit and doesn’t develop any further. On the other hand, there are some habits or behaviors that can lead to negative consequences.

Habit vs. Addiction

In behavioral health, the differences between a habit and an addiction can be unclear. Habits can be difficult to break, however, unlike addiction, they typically do not have a negative impact on our ability to function.

Addiction is much more powerful. Here are some signs that drug use may be an addiction:

  • An increase in time spent using drugs
  • Difficulty stopping drug use, due to chemical changes in the brain
  • Presence of withdrawal symptoms when drug use stops
  • Financial, emotional, or social problems associated with drug use
  • Lower quality of life

Habitual drug or alcohol use can lead to poor decision-making and a loss of control. However, the pleasurable feeling that comes from indulging in the addiction can be so strong that an individual feels they have no choice. The behavioral patterns associated with addiction can almost feel automatic.

Questions to Ask Yourself

If you’re concerned that your habit may be harmful, ask yourself these questions:

  • Have you tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to break your habit?
  • Is your use of drugs or alcohol leading to poor decision-making or risky behaviors?
  • Do you find yourself craving drugs or alcohol?
  • Do you hide your substance use or defend it to others?
  • Is your habit negatively impacting work, school, or relationships?

Your answers may reveal a dependence on drugs or alcohol that requires professional treatment.

Treating Your Addiction

Research has found that it takes about 21 days to break a habit. With focus, habits can usually be broken without requiring professional help.

However, overcoming an addiction is often not so simple as abstaining for 21 days. Addiction is complex. There are psychological and emotional effects associated with addiction. There may even be social or legal consequences.

Addiction is a chronic disease but it is treatable. However, because it is a disease, it usually requires professional support and treatment.

Treatment is about more than managing symptoms of addiction. It’s also about identifying underlying issues that cause people to turn to harmful substances.

Pyramid Healthcare provides comprehensive treatment programs for individuals who have substance use and mental health disorders. We offer various levels of care for adults and adolescents, including inpatient and outpatient treatment.

For more information about how Pyramid Healthcare can help you or a loved one overcome addiction, call (888) 694-9996.

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