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Habits: From harmless to destructive

Posted on 06-08-2015 Posted in Mental Health - 0 Comments

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Habits become an unconscious staple of the everyday life. From checking the cell phone every few minutes to reaching for a cigarette upon waking up, habits form and are difficult to break. One could turn the hallway light on before walking down the hall in the middle of the day. Another may drink a beer each night for dinner. But how does a habit form and moreover, how does one get rid of a habit?

True, some habits are nonconsequential; not all habits start out harmless and turn destructive. But other habits are destructive from the get-go and continue wreak havoc in the body. In some cases, habits can even lead to addiction. One possibility to dealing with unhealthy habits is to replace it with a positive one.

What is a habit?

A habit can cause an addiction, but there is a key difference between the two. Medicalnewstoday.com explains, a habit “is done by choice. The person with the habit can choose to stop, and will subsequently stop successfully if they want to. The psychological and physical component is not an issue as it is with an addiction.” With an addiction, a person is unable to control the addiction without external intervention.

The formation of habits

Habit formation is defined as “the process by which new behaviors become automatic,”  and moreover, “the behavioral patterns we repeat most often are literally etched into our neural pathways.” People may have initial control over the habit, yet find they do not realize they are continuing to repeat it. Other times, individuals want to ignore they have a habit with smoking too often or drinking too much.

Alex Korb, Ph.D., covers the topic of habits and the effects thereof on the body. Korb goes in depth with how actions are first done as “goal oriented” and completed to receive a reward. “But the part of the brain that controls habits, a deep reptilian structure known as the dorsal striatum, doesn’t care about goals much at all. It just wants to do things that it has done before.” The dorsal striatum may sound futile , but “if we didn’t have habits we’d have to constantly be making complex choices and re-learning things and it would be exhausting.”

If a habit is kept and continues through adulthood, it can become harmful. Korb demonstrates how a child may eat more when stressed and not have a direct consequence, but as the child reaches 20, stress eating becomes a significant issue the child’s health.

Solutions

Attempting to quit a habit can be difficult, but is possible. Rather than trying to go cold turkey and make a harmful habit disappear , it is recommended to take baby steps and slowly change it.

Thomas Plante Ph.D., American Board of Professional Psychology, presents a solution to habits. Changing a habit is a slow process and cannot be rushed. To substitute bad and harmful habits with healthy ones can seem impossible. Plante explains how New Year’s resolutions are difficult to follow through with, “They may have good intentions but the longer you wait to develop healthy habits, the harder they are to take hold.”A patient of Plante’s frequents nightly happy hour with her husband and was consuming more alcohol than she planned. Plante reflects on her own, belated insight, “alcohol no longer tastes good to her but she drinks the same amount each day regardless.” Plante suggests, “My patient should perhaps still continue her tradition of enjoying happy hour with her husband. But if we can find a way to lower or eliminate the alcohol consumption in her drinks then we can make her habit work better for her.”

Habits come in all shapes and sizes, develop in anyone’s life and can become destructive over the years. Yet there are treatment options available and people who can help. Sovereign Health Group has a facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which is dedicated to addiction rehab, mental health and dual diagnosis treatment, among other cutting edge modalities. If you, or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse or out of control habits feel free to search through this website or call 866-269-2493. We should not give up if a habit is difficult to break.

Written by Nick Adams, Sovereign Health Group writer

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