There’s a fine line between forming a habit and becoming an addict. Habits and addictions are commonly associated because they share a similar brain process, creating neural pathways that gradually become stronger with repetition. Knowing the difference between a habit and an addiction is essential to identify the signs and avoiding adverse consequences.

What is a Habit?

A habit is a behavioral pattern that develops over time with repetition and consistency. It can be formed intentionally, like starting a new workout routine, or unintentionally, like constantly checking your phone. Habits can be positive or negative, depending on the behavior and how it affects our lives. Positive habits support our health and well-being, while negative patterns harm our physical or emotional health.

One of the definitive traits of a habit is that it is relatively easy to change or break. It’s easier to unlearn habits because they are learned behaviors stored in our brains and reinforced through repetition. By consciously choosing to replace negative patterns with positive ones and repeating these new behaviors consistently, new neural pathways can be established and gradually replace the old habits.

Signs Of A Formed Habit 

Knowing how long it takes to create a habit is critical for someone looking to form a healthy habit or avoid forming a negative one. Supposedly, it takes 21 days to form a habit by popular belief—further research has proved otherwise. A 2009 study in the European Journal of Social Psychology reported that it took participants an average of 66 days to form a habit, ranging from 18 to 254 days.

While other studies have found similar results, it primarily depends on the specific behavior and the individual. There is no definitive answer to the time it takes to form a habit, as it varies based on several factors. However, you can determine whether you’ve developed a habit based on the signs.

Here are some of the most commons signs that you have formed a habit:

  • You do it naturally without much thought or effort
  • You feel a sense of anxiety or irritation when you don’t do it
  • It’s a part of your routine or schedule
  • You have a sense of satisfaction or pleasure when doing this
  • You’ve developed a mental, emotional, or physical attachment to it
  • It takes priority over other things in your life
  • You’ve formed a sense of identity around it
  • You experience a sense of withdrawal or negative symptoms when you stop doing it

Forming a habit isn’t necessarily viewed as a negative concept like addiction is—and it doesn’t have to be depending on the type of habit you create.

What Is An Addiction?

An addiction is a more severe issue involving physical and psychological dependence on a behavior or substance. It can be defined as compulsive behavior that is difficult to control despite adverse consequences. Addictions often negatively affect a person’s health, relationships, work, and overall quality of life.

Various factors, including genetics, trauma, mental health issues, or environmental factors, can cause addictions. They often involve changes in the brain’s chemistry, making it difficult to overcome without professional help or treatment. When trying to recover from addiction, it’s typical to experience withdrawal symptoms, which can be physically and emotionally exhausting.

Signs Of An Addiction

Addiction is a complex condition that can be difficult to identify, as it manifests differently for each individual. While substance addiction is the most common type, many other behavioral addictions can be challenging to recover from.

Non-substance-related behavioral addictions can be internet addictions, sex addictions, gambling, eating disorders, physical exercise, pathological working, and criminal behavior. Behavioral addictions might not seem as harmful as drug or alcohol addiction, but they can potentially damage your mental and physical well-being in excess.

Some of the most common signs of addiction may include the following:

  • Increased tolerance: Over time, someone with an addiction may require more substance or behavior to experience the same effect.
  • Loss of control: Someone with an addiction may struggle to limit or stop their substance use or behavior, even if it causes negative consequences.
  • Neglecting responsibilities: Addiction can cause someone to prioritize their substance use or behavior over other responsibilities, such as work, school, or relationships.
  • Continuing to partake despite negative consequences: An addicted individual may continue to use a substance or engage in a behavior despite experiencing adverse effects, such as legal problems, relationship issues, or financial difficulties.
  • Spending excessive time on the addiction: An addicted individual may devote significant time and energy acquiring, using, or recovering from the substance or behavior.
  • Withdrawal symptoms: When an addicted individual attempts to stop engaging in the addictive behavior or using drugs or alcohol, they’ll likely experience psychological or physical side effects, such as irritability, anxiety, depression, sweating, or nausea.

The signs and symptoms of addiction vary depending on the type of addiction someone has—especially when it comes to withdrawal symptoms.

The Importance Of Recognizing The Differences Between Habits and Addictions

Recognizing the differences and similarities between habits and addictions can help individuals evaluate their behaviors before they escalate. While a habit can be harmful and excessive, it doesn’t require the type of treatment that an addiction does. The proper action for breaking a bad habit entails avoiding tempting situations, eliminating negative behaviors, and adopting healthier ones while receiving emotional support. A habit can be broken through simple lifestyle changes and peer support from family and friends.

Treating addiction isn’t necessarily self-treatable, especially when trying to get sober from drugs and alcohol. Whether behavioral or substance, addiction treatment often requires an intensive treatment program to assist the individual through withdrawal and recovery. Recovering from addiction is facilitated through ongoing support from family and friends, support groups, and other addiction resources. When differentiating between a habit and an addiction, self-awareness is essential for identifying problematic behaviors and seeking the proper treatment and support.