The blurred lines between habit and addiction
Everyone has habits, rituals and routines that we do every single day. Often, people do not realize their seemingly harmless habit has turned into a serious addiction that may require professional help.
So when do those habits cross the line and become addictive behavior?
“An addiction is present when the need for something is so great that a person obsesses over it, and it begins to interfere with their daily living,” says Dr. Maleeha Ahsan, a psychiatrist with Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill.
The American Psychological Association further defines addiction as having two stages:
- Dependence – We cannot go about our day without said substance or habits.
- Tolerance – In the case of drug addiction, tolerance is the stage at which larger doses of the drug are needed for the same effect. With behaviors this can mean obsessing over something more and more.
“There is no such thing as a healthy addiction,” Dr. Ahsan says. “Sometimes people replace one addiction with another, and most of the time these addictions are ignored.”
While many think about substance abuse when it comes to addiction, there are also behaviors that can become addictions, Dr. Ahsan says. According to Psychology Today, gambling, overeating and video gaming can become addictions due to their ability to provide instant gratification. This gratification in turn becomes something that people then seek out to the point of disrupting their daily lives.
Experts say small vices like morning coffee or a nightcap may seem habitual and similar to an addiction, but if they do not interfere with your daily living or disrupt your family or work life, they’re not classified as an addiction.
Dr. Ahsan says there are various ways to treat addictive behaviors.
“Detox programs for drug and alcohol addiction, as well as rehab programs are all places to start,” Dr. Ahsan says. “Working with a psychiatrist is also one of the best options, especially if the addiction is not a substance issue.”
It is not always easy to admit to needing help, she says, however, recognizing when something has become more than a habit is the first step. “There are treatment options out there can make a difference.”
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.