A habit is a simple behaviour – something you either do without thinking, or as a simple response to a situation. An addiction is at the edges of losing control.

It is not fruitful to say that everyone is addicted to something. I am weary of hearing this useless comment. Consider this chart:

When considering behaviour:

  • If I am healthy and I experience pain or discomfort, I will react appropriately. Example – I am tired, so I have a coffee.
  • Habit: Over time we may develop a pattern of behaviour based on predicted pain or discomfort. Or we may develop a habit of addressing pain or discomfort as it arises, through a reward model. For example: I am tired, so I develop a habit of having (needing?) a coffee every morning. If I don’t get my coffee, I may be grumpy, and get a head ache. Next morning, the cycle repeats. OR I am feeling gloomy, so I reward myself with some trinket and that simple act makes me feel better.
  • Addiction: If I am suffering from addiction and I experience pain or discomfort, my reaction is illogically amplified.  For example: I am tired. This triggers a feeling of being ripped-off by life in general. Now I feel even worse. Subconsciously, I turn to a behaviour that I think is pleasurable or that helps to dull the pain. I indulge in my addiction, to avoid the pain that was triggered by being tired. However, the addictive behaviour has other consequences, and now I feel even worse. So I try the addictive behaviour again, and again, and again.

It is of little value to say that the habitual need for coffee compares with the addiction sufferer’s perpetual, unsatisfiable need to dull the pain in their life. This thinking leads to condemning coffee drinkers, while diminishing the seriousness of life altering addictions such as pornography, alcohol or drugs.

It is also important to note that some habits are not healthy. Some people suffering addiction deny that their addiction is destructive. This lack of awareness or denial is why we need to see these behaviours on a scale of destructiveness. Pornography addiction’s destructiveness is more subtle than a methamphetamine addiction, but both of these addictions have a far greater chance of ruining one’s life than drinking too much coffee.

The causes of “habits” are usually pretty obvious and can almost always be dealt with through some relatively simple behaviour modification. Although it carries its own baggage, addiction is not the cause of our problems. Rather, addiction is a symptom of something deeper. Simple behaviour modification techniques do not cure addiction. They are good and useful in promoting harm reduction, but they are not a cure.