What Is the Real Brain Science Behind Habits and Addiction?

Often a behavior that we refer to as an addiction is just an unfavorable habit that hasn’t been addressed. However, there are behaviors that become so ingrained in our brain that they are indistinguishable from addiction.

To understand how destructive lifestyle choices can lead to addictive behavior, it’s important to learn the brain science and neuropsychology that underlies thought patterns and habits.

What Is a Habit, Anyway?

When we focus on vices such as addiction to sugar, drugs, alcohol, and the internet, we notice the behaviors involve compulsiveness and an inability to avoid certain activities. These repetitive actions are a form of self-sabotage. And many of them begin as habits that eventually become a regular way of life.

Let’s face it, we’re all creatures of habit. But certain “bad” habits often involve some form of self-destruction, right? And they can often trace back to a lack of self-awareness and low self-esteem.

How Do We Form Habits?

As it turns out, researchers have identified psychological factors that contribute to the formation of these habitual behaviors.

Our brains are wired to survive based on a neurological reward system. As soon as we do things that support our survival, such as exercise or eat a meal, our brain rewards the behavior by releasing dopamine, the “feel-good” chemical. It’s no wonder we repeat these behaviors. It makes us feel better.

The Habit Loop Often Leads to Addiction

The determining factor for when a habit becomes an addiction is the amount of time you engage in the activity, how it affects your brain chemically, and the presence of withdrawal symptoms when you distance yourself from the activity.

If you repeatedly engage in certain actions, you can form a habit in a relatively short period. And a pattern can take hold in as little as sixty-six days. Repeated activities can quickly become habits whenever the habit loop is active in your life.

That loop involves three things: the cue or trigger that causes you to engage in an activity, the actual behavioral routine, and the reward that somehow provides your brain with the satisfaction it’s craving. This loop is a neurological cycle of a trigger, routine, and reward that can eventually lead to the same physical and mental response that you see in addictive behaviors.

When Bad Habits Become an Addiction

The psychological component of the habit loop can have a powerful effect on your brain in relatively short order. Instead of seeking healthier habits, your brain can become stuck in the trigger-routine-reward loop, which trains it to crave the routine that leads to the reward.

Sound familiar? It should because that’s essentially how many addictive responses work. Your brain associates certain activities with a particular type of reward and reacts negatively when those routines are absent.

Restore Your Healthy Sense of Self

If you’ve cultivated poor habits, it’s important to understand the impact that those repeated behaviors have on the direct relationship you have with yourself. Do they affect your ability to enjoy your life? What about your relationships? Are the people in your life affected by your habitual behavior and vice versa?

When your habits are so ingrained that they’re indistinguishable from addiction, you know it’s time to take action.

None of us need to settle for the loss of self-control that addiction represents. And it’s important to act as early as possible to break the habit loop before it solidifies into a deep-rooted behavior. Thankfully, we can learn to reprogram our thinking patterns.

It is possible to restore your Sense of Self and become the master of your Self again. So how can you determine whether your life is in a state of imbalance that requires direct action?

Take the Healthy Sense of Self Quiz and find out whether or not your Sense of Self is in balance.

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