There’s a big difference. A habit is something that we have done so often that we do it automatically, without considering it much at all. Nail-biting and cursing are examples of habits. We can stop doing both on our own, if we pay attention to our efforts and continue to work at it.
Addiction is a chronic disease, involving changes in the brain that result in an irresistible compulsion to use a drug. A combination of many factors including genetics, environment and behavior influence a person’s addiction risk, but once addicted a person literally must have the drug in order to be able to function. Addictions are medical conditions that almost always require professional treatment. Alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs, and alcoholism is an addiction.
Denial is a primary characteristic of addiction: stories we tell ourselves, consciously or not, to stay convinced that things aren’t all that bad, and that it’s OK to keep on doing what we have been doing. Denial protects our drugs, which we believe deep down we cannot do without.
In order to examine our possible denial, we need to take a look at our lives in an objective way. The checklist below will help you be objective about whether your issue is a harmless little habit, or a sign of addiction. If you think you might be addicted to something else, just change the wording accordingly. Answer the questions honestly. If you answer “yes” to part of a multi-part question, it counts as a yes for the whole question.
- Has your use of drugs or alcohol increased over time?
- When you stop using, have you had any of the following symptoms: irritability, anxiety, shakes, sweats, nausea, or vomiting?
- Do you sometimes use more or for a longer time than you would like? Do you sometimes drink to get drunk? Do you stop after a few drink usually, or does one drink lead to more drinks?
- Have you continued to use even though there have been negative consequences to your mood, self-esteem, health, job, or family?
- Have you ever put off or reduced social, recreational, work, or household activities because of your use? Have you ever stayed away from an activity because you wouldn’t be able to drink or use drugs?
- Have you spent a significant amount of time obtaining, using, concealing, planning, or recovering from your use? Have you spend a lot of time thinking about using? Have you ever concealed or minimized your use? Have you ever thought of schemes to avoid getting caught?
- Have you sometimes thought about cutting down or controlling your use? Have you ever made unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control your use?
If you answered yes to at least 3 of these questions, then you meet the medical definition of addiction as defined by the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization. We suggest discussing your options with an addiction professional as soon as possible.