Substance abuse: habit vs. addiction

An area of specialism within my practice is substance abuse counselling.

I have put together a brief outline in relation to habit vs. addiction.

Drug addiction can be viewed as a transition from voluntary, recreational drug use to compulsive drug-seeking habits, neutrally underpinned by a transition from prefrontal cortical to striatal control over drug seeking and taking a progression from the ventral to the dorsal striatum.

Barry J. Everitt and Trevor W. Robbins (University of Cambridge) further reviewed animal and human studies that have begun to define etiological factors and individual differences in the propensity to become addicted to drugs, leading to the description of addiction endophenotypes, especially for cocaine addiction.

Probably the most important distinction between habit vs. addiction is how choice, to an extent, is still possible with habit-forming behaviours. When it comes to addiction, people generally have a harder time making decisions because of their dependence on a substance or behaviour. Typically, these factors are linked to the reward systems in the brain, which help explain their overarching power in stripping people from the capability to make rational decisions.

The research Barry J. Everitt, writing for the European Journal of Neuroscience, compared the starker difference between habit vs. addiction. He focused principally on the treatment side of drug addiction. What is more, Everitt made a point to discuss how habits can lead to acute addictions.

In relation to addiction, there are various types –

  • Habit
  • Problematic use
  • Dependency
  • Addiction

The difference between the above list is how the client is measured against American psychologist, Abraham Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Human Needs’.