What Is The Difference Between An Unhealthy Habit VS Addiction?

If I were to ask you what your unhealthy habits are, what would you tell me?

Mine right now is scrolling on the internet on my phone before bed and first thing in the morning. I once had my morning routine sussed and my phone didn’t make an appearance until I had finished but bad habits have a way of creeping back in if we don’t become vigilant with them. This is also my accountability FYI that from tomorrow (Monday is always a great day to start a new habit by the way so do feel free to join me) I will get back into reading 20 minutes before bed and do a meditation when I first wake up. Accountability is key when we are looking to make a change. If you feel like it do let me know in the comments section what small or big change you would like to make this week and we can do this together!

A good example of when an unhealthy habit of mine spiralled is when I started socially smoking at college and then just like that I was going to the newsagent every morning and I became a daily smoker. What was once an unhealthy social habit soon becomes an unhealthy addiction. Smoking has also been the most difficult thing for me to kick. It has helped me deal with breakups and breakdowns in my hangover free life and given me something to help deal with difficult emotions. But each time I have picked it back up again I put it back down straight away and unlike my younger smoking days it stays firmly in the unhealthy habit category and does not spiral into the addiction category (progress not perfection right?).  Don’t get me wrong I have dealt with plenty of big things without resorting back to unhealthy behaviours but sometimes life happens and it all feels too much and we need to move through turbulent times with some sort of coping method (maybe yours is alcohol, drugs, sex, porn, online shopping, gambling, food or social media). 

I am telling you this because it’s important to recognise we are all human. I am by no means perfect and yes I have overcome a lot but we are still all just doing our best and navigating the rocky waters of life. The last few months in my life have been particularly difficult but I am pleased to report I have dealt with things through running, yoga, swimming, cups of tea and tapping with maybe some internet scrolling but like I said progress not perfection. I call this habit positive progress. 

But what happens when we can’t stop our unhealthy habit? 

I have recently been studying a new coaching course with the amazing Nikki Heyder (if you don’t follow her you definitely should) and this has been a topic we have been covering. I wanted to share this with you because we ALL have unhealthy habits of some sort but when exactly does this become an addiction?

What Is Addiction?

According to Medical News Today addiction is:

Addiction is an inability to stop using a substance or engaging in a behavior even though it is causing psychological and physical harm.

According to Psychology Today, addiction is:

A person with an addiction uses a substance, or engages in a behavior, for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeat the activity, despite detrimental consequences. Addiction may involve the use of substances such as alcohol, inhalants, opioids, cocaine, and nicotine, or behaviors such as gambling.

According to Dr Gabor Mate (addiction expert) addiction is:

Any behavior that gives a person temporary relief and pleasure, but also has negative consequences, and to which the individual will return time and again.

Essentially we can look at addiction as an unhealthy habit (that we can’t stop) that has spun out of control that we continue to engage in despite its negative consequences. Whereas an unhealthy habit can be recognised as destructive but is something that we can stop engaging in.

Things can spiral for a number of different reasons – a big life change, health issues, mental health issues, trauma, feelings of grief, shame, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, social pressure, environment, difficult family dynamics, stress, genetic predispositions, or a hedonistic lifestyle over a prolonged period of time. There are so many factors as to how an unhealthy habit can turn into an addiction and why we engage in a bad habit in the first place.

It’s important to know that if this resonates with you that change is possible and there is help out there. It can feel really scary but reaching out for help is a brave act and nothing to feel ashamed about.

I believe addiction and unhealthy habits are on a spectrum and there doesn’t need to be a rock bottom moment. There might be something that you are doing in your life that is having a negative effect on your life and you are unhappy with. This is enough of a reason to want to stop and reach out for help (as much as a rock bottom moment is).  The lift can stop at floor 3 where you can get out without it having to go all the way down to floor 0.

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