Addiction vs. Bad Habit: What’s the Difference?

We All Have Unhealthy Attachments

We hear a lot of people say they can’t relate to someone with an addiction. They don’t know why it happens. They don’t know what’s going on in their brains. They don’t understand why people can’t stop. The list goes on…

It’s important for Sunshine Coast Health Center (SCHC) to help find a way for others to relate – especially in the family program.  Understanding and relating to how addiction works are conducive to supporting someone in recovery, improving well-being for all individuals involved, and increasing acceptance of addiction worldwide.

So How Do We Do It?

We call them ‘unhealthy attachments’. Attachments may not be the word you would use, but it means bad habits, obsessions, or things you can’t live without. Things like drinking too much coffee, being ‘only’ a social smoker, online shopping for hours, spending all your free time playing video games, or buying so much candy you put the witch of “Hansel & Gretel” to shame.

Your weakness, your crutch, your kryptonite – something or behaviour you love to partake in and can’t seem to stop. In addition, you know there’s something mildly wrong or unhealthy about what you’re doing.

We all have bad habits and unhealthy attachments. Don’t try and deny it; we’re all human. These unhealthy attachments aren’t always dire, which causes some people to believe they don’t have one, but usually, they still do. These obsessions are often the reaction to negative or unpleasant experiences. They’re our coping mechanisms. Bad day at work? Maybe you go shopping instead of drinking a bottle of whisky, but they’re not that different in the end.

The Difference

Now that I’ve told you how addiction and unhealthy attachments are similar, it’s time to point out how they differ. If unhealthy attachments were actually addictions, then we’d all be in treatment or therapy. While these bad habits exist for similar reasons and can sometimes present identical effects in the brain, they don’t usually change the brain and physiological functioning like true dependencies can. For example, chronic use of heroin and other opioids often leads to irreversible changes in the mind and body.

In addition, SCHC classifies addiction based on several social factors (see SCHC’s 3 C’s assessment). While these unhealthy attachments often reflect individual issues and struggles, they don’t often affect others tremendously. Once a person starts putting their obsession or attachment before responsibilities and obligations, it can begin to be considered a dependency and addiction. Like anything, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

Once people realize their bad habits are actually ‘bad’ or problematic, they usually look for a way to begin change (i.e. they start the Stages of Change). Some people change quickly, some change fast. Oftentimes, the hardest part is determining what is influencing this unhealthy attachment. Once figured out, changes can be made to stop this habit entirely or reduce it to a balanced, healthy level.

Hopefully, now you understand and can relate to what a person with an addiction is going through. Of course, some will claim a non-addict will never fully understand what it’s like to have an addiction and that may be true. Still, at least you’re a little more educated about it and will be better able to support those struggling with it.

If you have questions regarding a loved one’s behaviour and whether it’s an addiction or a bad habit, please comment below, email us at, or call 1.866.487.9050. We’re here to help!

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