Temptations, Habits, and Addictions

Written by Suzanne St. Amour,

Clinical Therapist at Family Service PEI
What comes to mind when you hear the word temptation? Does it have a negative or positive connotation for you?  People can be tempted to do a variety of things,  such as pushing that sleep button one more time in the morning or having another portion of a favorite food.
Temptation can lead to repeating a behavior until it becomes a habit. Humans do things for a reason (even when they do not give it much thought). They may not be aware of the motivation that causes them to act.  People’s actions are actually not random. So a person may be tempted to eat a piece of chocolate cake, because  they  like the taste and they enjoy eating it. Another may start biting their nails when they get nervous because it seems to help calm them down. Over time repeated actions like nail biting can occur outside of conscious awareness. Eating another helping of a favorite food will most likely involve some deliberation. These examples both can become habits. Habits are behavior patters acquired by frequent repetition. Some of them become nearly or completely involuntary, meaning that the individual is no longer conscious of the action. The behavior is repeated because it serves a function or has a purpose (or purposes) such as aiding someone to cope, it can also be a type of self-soothing or calming ones self. Oftentimes it is rewarding and pleasurable. To sum up, temptations can become habits.
Repetition of an activity can result in a habit become more serious. There is a point at which some types of repeated or constant habit can become an addiction. Examples of this include smoking, alcohol and drugs.  One of the frequently asked questions regarding addiction is; when does an activity go from being a habit to so an addiction..  Part of the answer has to do with free will and choice. A habit (although possibly difficult to change) is still a matter choice and retraining the brain. An addiction is a powerful compulsive need for and use of an activity or substance.  The list of potential addictive activities grows longer as technology introduces new areas of potential addiction such as gambling (casinos, machines or online), sex (online pornography and sexting), social media (e.g. Facebook), and the constant use of cell phones for various activities.
Going back to the idea of choice and free will, there is a fine line between habit and addiction and the line is crossed when a person looses control of the act.  With drug addiction for instance, the urge to repeat the experience becomes all consuming and there can be withdrawal effects that impact memory, the ability to make decisions and learn.  Some types of drug abuse become a way of life that must be continued at all costs. There is a complexity to the addiction that includes a physiological dependence and often if not always requires professional help to overcome. .To recap, some habits can become addictions.
Living deliberately and making conscious decisions about temptations can reduce or
prevent the temptations from becoming habits and possibly progressing to addictions. Being aware of our choices and tracking them over time also helps. Ask yourself the following questions, and answer honestly; how often do I do this _______ (fill in the blank), overall does it have a  positive or negative impact on my life, do I know the reason I do it, and do I need to stop?