When Does a Habit Turn Into an Addiction

Many of us have our vices – cigarettes, coffee, TV – but when does a habit turn into an addiction? There is actually a fine line between the two, which is why people often confuse them. However, an addiction is much more pervasive and occurs when the habit becomes compulsive and repeated despite negative consequences.

Because some people claim they have a habit when it’s really an addiction, it’s important to know the difference between the two. A bad habit can be broken with patience and diligence, but an addiction requires professional care. Let’s learn more about how habits progress into addictions, how to distinguish between the two and the ways to break free.

How Do Habits Turn into Addictions?

Every habit starts with something known as the “habit loop.” There’s a certain trigger that leads to the habit, and this eventually causes a reward sensation in the brain. Studies show that it takes about 66 days for a habit to stick and become part of your routine. The habit is now automatic and you can do it without thinking. This way, you can use your mental energy for other things.

Unfortunately, bad habits can rewire the brain. You can grow dependent on drugs and alcohol and need more and more of it to feel the same effects. Why some people develop addictions and others don’t is still unclear, but it’s believed to be a combination of genetic, environmental and developmental factors. If you have enough risk factors, you may develop an addiction more easily than someone else.

Researchers believe that people predisposed to addiction feel greater rewards when using drugs and alcohol. Dopamine is released in the brain, and it craves this wonderful feeling again and again. Once you are addicted, your brain cares more about satisfying the cravings than anything else. This is why people do and say things they normally wouldn’t, as they are being controlled by the addiction.

How Can I Tell if I Have a Habit or Addiction?

If you can do without the thing you want, it’s a habit. If you are willing to sacrifice anything to get what you want, it’s an addiction. But there are a few other ways you can tell the difference between a habit and addiction.

  • You spend more and more time doing the habit.
  • There are changes going on in the brain – you may notice mood swings, compulsive thoughts, waiting until “happy hour,” etc.
  • When you go without drugs or alcohol, you begin to experience withdrawal symptoms.
  • Negative consequences are occurring because of your habit, such as missed work, failing grades in school or problems in relationships.

Even if your habit with drugs and alcohol is controlled right now, it can turn into an addiction at any time, particularly if you are at a higher risk for substance abuse. This is why using drugs and alcohol is a bad habit that you don’t want to hold onto. It can take one stressful event to advance the habit to a full-blown addiction that requires treatment.

Is it Possible to Break a Bad Habit On My Own?

It is possible to break a habit on your own, though don’t expect it to be easy. You must put in the effort and have a great deal of self-discipline, as the habit has already been encoded in your brain. Some of the ways you can break a bad habit are by:

  • Choosing a healthy substitute
  • Eliminating as many triggers as possible
  • Joining forces with someone else looking to break the habit
  • Surrounding yourself with positive influences
  • Envisioning yourself succeeding
  • Avoiding negative self-talk

Can I Stop an Addiction On My Own?

While a habit can be broken, a true addiction requires the help of trained addiction treatment professionals. It’s not just a bad habit that you must stop – addiction is a chronic disease that interferes with healthy brain functioning.

Most people who recover from addiction require some type of professional help. Addiction has nothing to do with willpower, so you can’t win by being stronger than the disease. You must follow a safe plan for detox and withdrawal to remove toxins and drugs from your system.

Once you are clean, you’ll benefit from counseling, 12-step groups, holistic healing practices and life skills training. These treatments will teach you about yourself, the circumstances that led to your addiction and how to manage stressful events. In many cases, it’s painful memories or unresolved trauma at the root of it all.

Even if you don’t have painful memories, counseling will teach you how to cope with stressful events, as well as how to manage character defects like impulsivity. A treatment center like Acceptance Recovery Center has a number of therapies we use to help our clients recover such as trauma therapy, EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), art and music therapy, animal-assisted therapy and more.


Most addictions start with a bad habit, such as smoking marijuana to alleviate stress or drinking every night to forget about the past. As your brain is rewired and becomes dependent on these substances to feel good, your tolerance builds and your body becomes dependent. Eventually, your brain does, too, leading to a full-blown addiction that requires professional intervention.

Fortunately, you are not alone in your struggles. Help is available, and treatment comes in many different forms. An outpatient program like the one from Acceptance Recovery Center is flexible, convenient and affordable, allowing you to seek treatment while continuing with your normal routine. To learn more about our programs, please contact us today.