Bad Habit or Addiction?

When you are having a bad day at work, or fighting with your partner, or having a stressful day all around, what do you turn to for comfort? Is it food, alcohol, cigarettes, pain pills, online shopping? Or is praying or meditating, or calling your best friend or close family member?

I have been observing people around me for the last few weeks and noticed that most of us turn to cigarettes, alcohol, and food when we feel stressed or uneasy. For some reason, we tend to believe that these will make our stress go away – at least temporary. During the day we are looking for something to snack on. By the end of our workday we start dreaming about that glass of wine or beer when we get home, thinking that somehow all the stress of the day would disappear.

A lot of times it does work temporarily and we feel some sort of relief almost immediately. But other times we feel even worse. We are not only still stressed, but now we are adding the feeling of guilt. Why did I eat that piece of cake? Why did I drink this bottle of wine and have a headache? Why did I smoke that cigarette again when I know I am only ruining my health? Why did I go shopping again and spent money I don’t have?

So, are those just bad habits? Or can we consider them addictions? When does a habit become an addiction?

If you ask me, it takes some time to form a habit, whether good or bad. Once it becomes a habit, we do something automatically, not thinking much about it. A habit becomes an addiction when we turn to it systematically while knowing that it is potentially harmful for us, mentally, psychologically, or physically. The more we practice a habit, the deeper we start depending on it, the harder it is to quit.

I personally have had my fair share of bad habits. I was able to ditch all of them, except one. Turning to alcohol in times of stress, social anxiety, or joyful events seemed to be a norm for the longest time. Almost everyone I know drinks on every possible occasion. We are stressed – we drink. It’s someone’s birthday – we drink. Going out to sushi restaurant – we have to have sake. We go camping – we sit around the fire and drink. We go to the beach – we sip on cocktails, and so on and so forth. It seems like life is just one long drinking event.

So when and how do we stop?

Recently, I have come to the conclusion that drinking alcohol, even if it is one or two drinks, takes me away from God. I can’t pray. It also takes me away from doing anything productive. I can’t read, or clean, or work on any projects – all I want is to lay down in bed and do nothing. It takes me away from my son. I don’t feel fully present with him.

I really want to retrain my brain to turn to other stress relievers other than alcohol. For you, it might be food, or cigarettes, or gambling, shopping, sex, or whatever else that takes over you. I don’t want my son to grow up like I did – when drinking was going on everywhere and all the time. People act differently when they are tipsy. We all know that. We do things we wouldn’t do sober. It’s almost like alcohol gives us wings and lets us free – out of our mind cage.

I want to learn how to pray in times of sadness and joy instead. I want to learn how to deal with my emotions as they are, without trying to “cover” them with a bad habit. I want to be emotionally intelligent. So that’s the plan. Whether I succeed or not is not guaranteed, but at least it’s worth trying.

What’s your bad habit? What do you turn to in times of stress? Do you feel guilty afterwards? Maybe it’s more than just a bad habit?

Please comment and share your thoughts.


Author of Rocky Road to Recovery self-help memoir. Integrative Nutrition Health Coach.

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