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Habit vs Addiction: How to Know the Difference

In day-to-day conversations, the words “habit” and “addiction” can sometimes be used interchangeably when talking about substance use. However, it’s important to understand that these words are very different. While habits can be either good or bad, virtually all addictions are in some way harmful. And when talking about how to end harmful habits and addictions, the approach is different for each. 

Taking a deep dive into habit vs addiction is not just about semantics, but more importantly, it is a matter of having the proper context when it comes to finding a solution. 

If you or a loved one is suffering from either a harmful habit or an addiction of any kind, this resource will help point you in the best direction. 

A sign pointing towards a new life

Definitions: Habit vs Addiction 

The Oxford dictionary defines habit as “a thing that you often do and almost without thinking, especially something that is hard to stop doing.”

Meanwhile, addiction is defined by the same dictionary as “the condition of being unable to stop using or doing somethingespecially something harmful.”

The Similarities Between Habit and Addiction

The main reason why the words habit and addiction get used interchangeably is that they have a few external similarities, which we will now discuss before tackling their differences. 

1. Repeated Behaviours Over a Long Period of Time 

As covered in the definitions earlier, both habits and addictions show up as repeated behaviours over a span of time. Both can occur for months or years, becoming a significant portion of a person’s day-to-day routine. 

2. Tied to a Sense of Comfort or Relief 

Another similarity between habits and addictions is that they become tied to a sense of comfort or relief. This emotional link usually happens over time. 

When one participates in the habit or addiction, it provides comfort. Conversely, not doing the habit or not satisfying the addiction would lead to feelings of discomfortalbeit in varying degrees. The discomfort felt in such scenarios is usually far stronger when addiction is involved, as we will discuss in a later section

It’s important to recognize that this emotional link towards comfort or relief could be beneficial for reinforcing good habits; however, it is bad news for detrimental habits and addictions of any kind. 

The Differences: Habit vs Addiction

Now that we’ve established the similarities, let’s talk about how you can tell the difference between a habit and an addiction. 

1. The Involvement of an Addictive Substance

Addiction is an intricate topic that scientists and psychologists still continue to study and learn more about. However, it is already established that not everyone who tries addictive substances (e.g. drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes) becomes addicted to them. There are definitely other factors at play when developing a substance addictionsuch as a person’s environment, mental health conditions, genetic predispositions, and so much more. 

But when it comes to differentiating addictions from habits, typically the involvement of any addictive substance in repeated behaviour is a strong marker for addiction, whether the addiction is in the process of taking hold or has already done so.   

2. The Experience of Strong Withdrawal Symptoms 

Addictions to a variety of substances cause changes to a person’s neurobiology over time. Because of these changes, a person may experience withdrawal symptoms each time they try to quit. This connects with why addictions are generally harder to overcome than habits. 

A woman crying on the couch as she experiences withdrawal symptoms

3. The Amount of Effort to Quit 

Though some habits are hard to quit, they generally do not need as much effort, support, or treatment as addictions do. This is mainly because addictions are more neurologically/biologically linked. So generally, one marker for addiction is when someone repeatedly desires or tries to quit and then frequently relapses.   

4. Making Life Sacrifices and the Presence of Risky Behaviour 

People with substance use disorder or addictions may have distorted ways of thinking that are accompanied by intense cravings for a particular substance. Therefore, a person who has an addiction may engage in risky behaviour or make irrational sacrifices in their life in order to satisfy the addiction. 

Irrational sacrifices may include severe damage to health, troubled relationships, financial losses, sabotaging one’s career, and so on. In most cases, the same can not be said for habits, which makes the above-mentioned situations a clear sign that an addiction is present.  

How to End Bad Habits and Addictions

Ending Bad Habits 

Do you have a bad habit that you want to end once and for all? Here are a few helpful tips you can try: 

  • Have a clear and powerful “WHY statement” behind your decision to quit this bad habit. Write this statement down and put it in places where you can see it (e.g. the mirror, on a wall, your computer monitor, etc.)
  • Identify what triggers the bad habit and stay away from that trigger as much as you can.
  • Keep a visible calendar to mark the days when you successfully avoided the bad habit and challenge yourself not to break the chain.
  • Find good, beneficial habits that will keep you preoccupied (e.g. exercising, spending time with loved ones or a pet, meditating, and so on.) 
  • Keep a list of alternative enjoyable and beneficial things you can do every time you are tempted to slip back.
  • Accept that slipups may be part of the process. If this happens, be kind to yourself and put yourself back on track to quitting the habit.

Overcoming Addictions

Though some of the above tips on ending detrimental habits can also help with quitting addictions, the process of quitting addictions is generally more complicated for most. It takes patience, a good strategy, and ongoing support. 

The first crucial step is to recognize the presence of an addiction. Hopefully, this article has helped you with this vital step. From here, we encourage you to learn more about the specific type of addiction that you or your loved one is dealing with while also reaching out to qualified experts who can help out. 

Safe and Effective Treatment Is Always Within Easy Reach

In this article, we took a deep dive into habit vs addiction and discussed their differences and similarities. If you are still uncertain about what next steps to take for substance use disorder or addiction, we’re here for you. 

Freedom From Addiction is a world-class drug and rehabilitation center in Aurora, Ontario that serves the entire Greater Toronto Area. We have developed specialized research-backed treatment programs that can change lives in the safest and most comfortable way possible. 

So if you or a loved one is ready to quit drug/alcohol addictions and be empowered to have stronger overall mental health, our doors are always open for you. To learn more about what we can do to help, reach out to us today!


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