Addiction vs. Habit: Recognizing the Dangers

October 19, 2016

It starts out innocently enough. A friend offers you a cigarette or an alcoholic drink, or maybe even encourages you to try an illegal drug. You’ve never done any of that before, and your friend promises you that it’s harmless. You think to yourself, “What harm could one do? It’s not like I’m going to get hooked on just one cigarette/drink/pill/joint/snort/hit.”

It’s doubtful that any addict or alcoholic ever intended to become one. If you ask anyone who has ever quit smoking, drinking or doing drugs whether or not they regretted quitting, they would probably tell you that if they had known how hard it would be to quit, they wouldn’t have started in the first place. They might even tell you about all the things they lost before they realized they had a problem, and how much better their life is now.

How Habits Are Formed

Habits begin when you have a routine, like stopping at the same bagel shop for an everything bagel and coffee on your morning commute to work. Before long, you find yourself stopping in on the weekends because coffee at home just doesn’t taste the same, and the bagels you buy at the grocery store just aren’t as good.

When you have to leave town for a vacation or business trip, you can’t stop thinking about how soon you’ll be home because the bagels and coffee anywhere else just don’t compare to what you’re used to.

How to Break These Habits and Ask for Help

Breaking a habit begins with acknowledging that your habit has become an addiction, and a problem, in your life. Choosing to stop an addiction often means identifying why it became more than a habit — for example: if you realize you smoke when you become stressed, and then move on to finding another means of coping with the stress. You won’t want to replace one addiction with another, so starting to drink to cope with quitting smoking isn’t a good idea, either.

Have you ever been tricked into playing The Chicken Game? The game is played with a picture of a chicken and the rules are simple: Don’t look at the chicken. Naturally, your first instinct is to look at the picture of the chicken and you automatically lose the game. Quitting a bad habit can be made easier by not focusing so much on what you aren’t going to be doing anymore.

Instead of setting a negative goal of “I’m not going to…,” set a positive goal of doing something different when you find yourself reaching for your addiction. “When I want to smoke a cigarette, I’m going to eat a carrot instead.” “When I watch football, I’m going to make sure to have only soft drinks available.” Keeping a positive outlook on your desire to quit, and believing that you will succeed, can have a big impact in achieving your goals.

Having an accountability partner in your goal to quit your habit is also important. Choose someone who will be encouraging, honest and supportive of your desire to quit. You don’t want someone who will “co-sign” or justify every slip you might make, because they will only make it easier for you to fail. You want someone in your corner who is as invested in your success as you are. Support groups are an excellent source for help when you have decided to quit an addiction, and they will also be able to provide you with information and resources to make it easier.

If your habit or addiction is one that’s being “fed” by the people you associate with or have in your life, you will need to make a choice between yourself and them. Misery loves company, and your old friends will not be supportive of the new direction you’ve taken.

The Road Ahead

Choosing to face the “monkey on your back” and overcome it is to be commended. It’s often a difficult choice brought about by pain, both emotional and physical, or perhaps even losing someone or something that was important to you. Having the courage to admit you have a problem is the biggest part of the solution. The rest of it — including the battle to overcome the addiction — will not be fought alone if you have a support system in place that will encourage and support your decision.

One thing to remember as you face the journey ahead is that it is worth it, and you can do this. It has been done by many before you, and one day you may be able to share your experience, and success, with someone else. Just like someone will be willing to share theirs with you.

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