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What is the difference Between an Addiction and a Habit?

addiction verses habit in the brain

The Difference Between an Addiction and a Habit

Addiction is a term with some heavy consequences behind it. This is a well-known fact, and in turn, leads to plenty of rash decision-making across the board. Some see addiction as some drastic unattainable label they haven’t earned quite yet, but may actually be deep into addiction territory, just in denial. Others may be too keen to toss the label around, either in fear or just some flawed judgment. Either way, there are misconceptions, concerns, and thoughts that are worth addressing.

While there may be a number reading who think “Well, I know the difference between addiction and habit”, it’s important to note that those who don’t know it are people who would most benefit from this information. So, let’s begin: What is addiction?

Addiction can be defined as a dependency one can develop on a substance, thing, or activity that overwhelms self-control. It may take high priority over more important aspects of their life like a job, hobbies, or family time, and often these are the most telling signs of addiction.

However, whenever conversation steers toward addiction, there are a few misconceptions that pop up consistently. Some immediately jump to drug and alcohol addiction, and while those are very real issues, there’s more than just that out there. Technology, video games, social media, shopping, food, pornography, heck, even sugar! These are all capable of hooking someone to the point of addiction and have even been catered toward being more addicted in recent years.

Another huge misconception about addiction is specifically what causes it. At The Addictions Coach and Sober On Demand, our motto is

Addiction is not your problem; it is your solution to a problem.”

            We see it as a coping skill used to avoid or endure an uncomfortable idea, thought, or experience. This can be the biggest red flag when it comes to identifying dependence or addiction in a person. If they turn to excessive drinking or drugs when in high-stress situations, that can be a key indicator that they may need some help. If someone shops because they’re upset, or scrolls through social media endlessly to avoid responsibility, that’s also a major red flag!

SO, what is the Difference Between an Addiction and a Habit?


While some may hear these terms and think “that couldn’t be me”, often addiction can lurk in the background without really showing any signs until someone brings them to your attention. There are a few examples of normalized behavior like this, with a prominent one being gray area drinking.

Gray Area Drinking

Grey area drinking, as defined by the founder of The Gray Area Drinking Resource Hub, is described “as the space between the extremes of rock bottom and every-now-and-again drinking.”

The rock bottom she’s referring to is classified as severe alcohol use disorder, and when people think of drinking addiction, this is what they think of most. Someone completely controlled by their addiction and the most extreme possible example. However, 90% of individuals who do drink excessively don’t fall under the severe alcohol use disorder umbrella and are otherwise known as gray area drinkers.

In other words, you don’t have to hit rock bottom to be addicted. Often grey area drinkers can convince themselves that they can stop any time they want. To prove it to themselves, they may stop for periods of time, but always fall back and use that time as an example of why they aren’t really addicted. This isn’t a sign of a lack of addiction, just a sign of not being completely controlled by it.

GAD is surprisingly common but often dismissed at face value as it’s seen as normal or someone “lightening up”. However, again, it can very clearly just be a problem and is worth seeking help for.

Shopping and Retail Therapy

Shopping addiction is another fantastic example of addiction that’s just been accepted by society. Often when those with shopping addictions feel overwhelmed, stressed, or depressed, they’ll turn to a quick shopping spree to cheer them up. This is a prime example of what many experts call retail therapy.

This naturally leads to the question, “What is retail therapy?” It’s not when someone miraculously buys a therapist or pays for a quick therapy session in their local mall, but when someone uses shopping as therapy.

This can lead to one denying their emotions and going on extravagant spending sprees, purchasing things that they might not really need, and in some cases straight up lead to hoarding.

The effects are devastating, the most obvious being in the financial aftermath, but there’s also the fact that these highs are only temporary. Regret may kick in and lead to further excessive spending to escape that emotion or other issues at home or work due to this addiction.

However, not all shopping is retail therapy, and thus not all can be classified as an addiction. Heck, as mentioned earlier, while it’s good to be aware of possible addiction, it’s important to make sure you’re not jumping the gun or getting paranoid! Whether it be drinking, shopping, or just about anything else.

What is the difference Between an Addiction and a Habit?

The most important differentiators between addiction and just a habit are moderation and prioritization. For example, while drinking isn’t a great choice medically if it’s restricted to social drinking, occasional drinks here and there, or even once a month, that can be fine! As long as those opportunities aren’t used as excuses to binge and make up for the lost time, drinking can be regulated.

The same applies to shopping! No one should be afraid to go buy some clothes, it’s just a matter of how often you go and set a budget to curb any excessive purchasing. There’s no harm in looking out for those you love, but if it’s handled with safety, everything should be fine.

Addressing Addiction

However, let’s say that there are signs of addiction and I want to start recovery ASAP. Well, the first step to recovery is acknowledging there’s a problem, then reaching out for help. The Addictions Coach is a perfect example of a possible resource, specializing in all types of addiction and readily equipped to help solve issues with revolutionary techniques.

You can sit down with the person in question and express your concerns, or if you’re an addicted individual, you can sit with some friends or family and open up about your worries. Set a stable support group, be open and honest, and make sure you get the proper help you need. Denial can be one of the most sturdy barriers between a person and recovery, so please don’t be afraid to reach out to The Addictions Coach or any local resources for a way to combat it before it’s too late.


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