When does a habit become an addiction?

I hate to admit it, but I’ve become one of those coffee snobs.
Yes it’s true. I have eschewed my previous penchant for Nescafe that I used to drink by the bucket load, in favour of a single daily brew artfully prepared by a craftsman barista and no sorry, I don’t include Starbucks in that accolade.

I look forward to that cup each morning. I anticipate how good it will smell and taste.

Habit?

Or addiction?

We have behaviours, actions and decisions that we make every day, that are entirely driven by habit and most are subconscious. There can be a very fine line between what determines a habit from an addiction.

If I don’t have my coffee, I miss it, but I can do without.

But what about our other habits such as the amount of alcohol we consume each week, or the number of cigarettes we smoke, the quantity of sugar and salt we add to our food, or the amount of time we spend on social media? Any of these in excess (and all smoking) can be detrimental to our health.

Addiction is when a behaviour or habit becomes compulsive and is repeated despite recognised negative consequences and is associated with changes in the brain’s structure and function.

Our vulnerability to addiction is complex and occurs as a consequence of genetic, environmental and developmental factors.

If we engage in a behaviour that the brain finds rewarding, the neurochemical dopamine is released in our reward circuits, that make us feel good, and more likely that we will reengage in that same behaviour, to again experience that dopamine reward. Normally when dopamine is released, any excess is mopped up quickly whilst other neurons release GABA , an inhibitory neurotransmitter that works to prevent a recipient neuron from being over stimulated by the dopamine. It’s a self-regulatory system.

Once you become addicted, the substance becomes more important to the brain and leads to cravings.

                           Pet scans showing the difference in neural activity in addicted and non addicted brains

                           Pet scans showing the difference in neural activity in addicted and non addicted brains

Addictive substances (which can take many forms in addition to the better known drugs of addiction) cause an increase in the amount of dopamine in the synapse (the space between two neurons) leading to a heightened sense of pleasure. Drug addiction develops when repeated drug use disrupts the normal fine balance of the brain circuitry that control reward, memory and cognition, resulting in compulsive drug taking.

So which addictions are people battling today?
In addition to drugs and alcohol addictions other well recognised addictions include gambling, smoking, sex, food in the form of compulsive eating and binge eating, caffeine, shopping and social media.

You may have heard of Dry July. Have you heard about Febfast?
Febfast is a 28 day detox program with the added bonus that it raises money for youth addiction.

You pick which habit you want to stop, curtail or reduce and get going over the 28 days of Feb.
Over the next few weeks during Febfast I will be examining the impact of some of our habits and addictions on our brain, starting next week – with coffee!

Meanwhile, why not trip over to the Febfast website at febfast.ord.au and check it out. If you are in Melbourne participating venues will be providing Febfasters with sugar free sweets and alcohol free drinks and it all starts next Saturday 1st Feb.

If you set yourself some New Years Resolutions and they need a bit of a kick to get happening, why not give Febfast a blast.

 

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