Most people will admit to being creatures of habit, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Habits can be valuable, especially if they help you stick to a fitness regimen or perform better at work. However, habitual behavior can also lead people down a dangerous path that may result in substance abuse and addiction. How does casual substance use turn into a life-altering addiction? In this article, we’ll explore how a habit becomes an addiction and look at a few of the factors involved.
Addiction and the Brain
Certain pleasurable activities, such as eating or sex, trigger the reward center in your brain, making you want to engage in the activity again.1 That’s why you might crave a certain dessert, even if you’re watching your waistline.
Substance abuse also excites the brain’s reward center; however, over time tolerance develops as the brain adapts to the continued presence of the substance. You end up needing more and more of the substance to achieve the same effects. Before long, you don’t even experience the substance’s pleasurable effects anymore—your body has come to need the substance just to function and feel normal. What’s happening is that your body has become dependent on the substance, and it doesn’t take long before the telltale signs become evident that a habit has become an addiction.
Knowing the Signs
One of the key indicators that a habit has developed into an addiction is continued usage despite the occurrence of life-altering negative consequences.2 Any bad habit can come with some unpleasant results—for example, you’re bound to gain weight if you eat too much fast food. These consequences might be negative, but they’re usually not serious.
The consequences of an addiction, however, are usually profound. A person who is struggling with addiction may see their personal and professional lives fall apart before their eyes, and financial and legal problems are common as well. Despite these severe negative consequences, an addicted person will keep drinking or using. This continued substance use is a telltale sign of the disease and indicates that a habit has become an addiction.
Breaking the Cycle
It might take some effort and self-discipline, but most people can eliminate a bad habit on their own. However, an addiction—known clinically as a substance use disorder—generally requires the help of trained professionals to overcome. It can be dangerous to abruptly stop taking certain substances; in these cases, a medically supervised detox program is needed to break the physical dependence safely.
After detox, rehabilitation is essential to deal with the psychological and behavioral aspects of substance abuse and acquire relapse prevention techniques. Rehab can help you develop the coping skills you’ll need in recovery and address any underlying emotional factors that may have contributed to an addiction.
Bad habits can be difficult to break, and if a habit has become an addiction, it can leave even the strongest person feeling hopeless. If you’ve been struggling to break free from addiction, it’s important to know that help is available. With the right treatment, you can take back control of your life and get started on the path to recovery.