Habit vs. Addiction: What's The Difference?

Habits and addictions are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. While habits can be positive or negative, addictions are always negative and can have serious consequences. In this article, we will explore the differences between habits and addictions.

What is a Habit?

habit is a behavior that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously. Habits can be positive or negative, depending on the behavior. For example, exercising regularly is a positive habit, while smoking is a negative habit. Habits are formed through repetition and can be difficult to break, but they are not usually harmful.

What is an Addiction?

An addiction is a compulsive behavior that is harmful to the individual and can have negative consequences. Addictions are often associated with substance abuse, such as drugs or alcohol, but they can also include behaviors like gambling or shopping. Addictions are characterized by a loss of control over the behavior and a strong desire to continue despite negative consequences.

The Differences Between Habits and Addictions

The main difference between habits and addictions is the level of control the individual has over the behavior. With a habit, the individual has control and can choose to stop the behavior if they want to. With an addiction, the individual has lost control and may not be able to stop the behavior even if they want to.

Another difference is the level of harm associated with the behavior. Habits can be positive or negative, but they are not usually harmful. Addictions, on the other hand, are always harmful and can have serious consequences for the individual and those around them.

Examples of Habits vs. Addictions

To better understand the difference between habits and addictions, let’s take a look at some examples.

Habit: Drinking a cup of tea every morning before work.

This is a positive habit that can have several benefits, including providing a sense of routine and relaxation before starting the day.

Addiction: Drinking alcohol every night to cope with stress.

This behavior has negative consequences and can lead to dependence and health problems. The individual may feel like they need alcohol to function or cope with stress, which is a hallmark of addiction.

Habit: Going for a walk after dinner every night.

This is another positive habit that can have physical and mental health benefits, such as reducing stress levels and improving sleep quality.

Addiction: Compulsive shopping or gambling.

These behaviors are often associated with addiction because they are harmful and can lead to financial ruin, relationship issues, and other negative consequences. The individual may feel like they cannot control their urge to shop or gamble despite knowing the negative impact it has on their life.

Breaking Habits and Addictions

Breaking a habit can be difficult, but it is possible with persistence and determination. The key is to replace the negative behavior with a positive one. For example, if someone wants to stop smoking, they could replace the habit with exercise or meditation.

Breaking an addiction is much more difficult and often requires professional help. Treatment options for addiction include therapy, medication, and support groups. It is important to seek help if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction.

The Psychology Behind Habits and Addictions

Habits and addictions are both rooted in the brain’s reward system. When we engage in a behavior that is pleasurable or rewarding, our brains release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good. Over time, our brains begin to associate the behavior with the release of dopamine, creating a feedback loop that reinforces the behavior.

With habits, this feedback loop can be positive or negative. For example, if someone enjoys running and experiences a “runner’s high” from the release of endorphins during exercise, their brain will begin to associate running with pleasure and will reinforce the behavior.

On the other hand, if someone eats junk food when they’re stressed and feels better temporarily due to the release of dopamine, their brain will reinforce the behavior and create a negative habit.

With addictions, however, this feedback loop becomes much stronger.

The brain begins to crave the release of dopamine so strongly that it overrides other signals telling us to stop engaging in the behavior.

This is why addiction is often characterized by a loss of control over the behavior – our brains have become wired to prioritize getting that dopamine fix above all else.

Understanding this psychology behind habits and addictions can help us break negative habits and overcome addiction.

By identifying what triggers our behaviors and finding healthier ways to get that same sense of reward or pleasure (such as exercise or spending time with loved ones), we can rewire our brains to reinforce positive behaviors instead.

However, for those struggling with addiction, seeking professional help is often necessary to break free from the powerful grip of addiction on the brain’s reward system.

How to Identify if You Have a Habit or an Addiction

It can be difficult to differentiate between a habit and an addiction, but there are some key signs that can help you identify which one you’re dealing with.

Frequency and Intensity of the Behavior

One way to determine if a behavior is a habit or an addiction is to look at how frequently you engage in it and how intense your desire is to continue the behavior. If you find yourself engaging in the behavior daily or multiple times per day, and feel like you cannot stop even when you want to, it may be an addiction. Habits, on the other hand, tend to be less frequent and easier to control.

Negative Consequences

Another way to tell if a behavior is a habit or an addiction is to assess the negative consequences associated with it. If the behavior is causing harm to yourself or others (e.g., financial problems, relationship issues, health concerns), it may be an addiction. Habits may have some negative consequences, but they are typically minor and not as harmful as those associated with addictions.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms can also indicate whether a behavior is a habit or an addiction. If you experience physical symptoms such as shaking, sweating, nausea, or anxiety when trying to stop the behavior, it may be an addiction. Habits do not typically cause physical withdrawal symptoms when stopped.

By looking at these factors – frequency/intensity of behavior, negative consequences, and withdrawal symptoms – you can get a better idea of whether your behavior is a habit or an addiction.

It’s important to remember that addictions are serious and require professional help to overcome. Even if your behavior does not meet all of the criteria for addiction, seeking support from friends, family members, or mental health professionals can help you break free from negative habits and improve your overall well-being.

The Impact of Social Media on Our Habits and Addictions

In today’s digital age, social media has become a ubiquitous part of our daily lives. While it has brought many benefits, such as staying connected with friends and family, it has also had a significant impact on our habits and addictions.

Social media platforms are designed to be addictive. They use algorithms that encourage users to spend more time scrolling through their feeds by showing them content that they are likely to engage with.

This can lead to a compulsive behavior where users feel the need to constantly check their phones for updates or notifications.

This behavior can quickly turn into an addiction, especially when combined with other factors such as anxiety or depression. Studies have shown that excessive use of social media can lead to negative mental health outcomes, including increased levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

In addition to addiction, social media can also contribute to the formation of negative habits.

For example, spending too much time on social media instead of engaging in physical activity can lead to a sedentary lifestyle and poor health outcomes.

However, it’s not all negative. Social media can also be used in positive ways to reinforce good habits and help individuals overcome addictions. Support groups for addiction recovery have been formed on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, providing individuals with access to resources and support from others who have gone through similar experiences.

Overall, it’s important for individuals to be mindful of their social media use and its potential impact on their habits and addictions. Setting boundaries around social media use and seeking professional help if necessary can help individuals break free from negative behaviors and improve their overall well-being.


In conclusion, habits and addictions are not the same thing. Habits can be positive or negative, while addictions are always negative and harmful. The key difference is the level of control the individual has over the behavior. Breaking a habit requires persistence and determination, while breaking an addiction often requires professional help. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, it is important to seek help.