What is common between Habits, OCDs and Addiction?
Can you try listing your habits? Do you sometimes catch yourself obsessing about silly things? Do you know people that are struggling to get rid of their addictions?
Most of us would usually refer to habits with exercise, diet or time management routines. When it comes to obsessive compulsive disorders (OCDs), we would refer to silly obsessions such as constantly checking if the door is locked or cleaning our hand multiple times. And addictions are linked to harmful activities like drug taking or smoking.
Even though the associations for each seem to be different, it turns out that a lot may be common in how the brain treats them. In this paper, Camerer explains the Wanting, Liking and Learning framework that guides our decision making process and how it relates to Disorders & Addictions. He describes that the act of Wanting to do something is different from Liking it. And the Learning system ideally helps the Wanting system in the brain to understand what it truly Likes. However, in case of disorders & addictions, this link seems to be broken. The Wanting system forces us to clean our hands over and over again even though it does not bring any additional pleasure to the Liking System. But how did we start this Habit of washing our hands in the first place?
Charles Duhigg explains the Habit loop in the form of Cue – Routine / Activity – Reward – Craving” in his book The Power of Habit. When we start a new activity it is generally in the presence of a cue. For example, we may have started drinking alcohol while being out partying with friends. The pleasure of drinking (the Liking system) is the reward. The craving (The Wanting System) for this reward is why we decide to drink again. Development of new habits could be generally explained using this loop. Habits become addictions when the brain begins to obsess about these cravings. These cravings could be for an external stimulus like a cigarette or internal like checking the lock on the door.
Brains scans show that as habits become stronger, brain activities tend to be higher when we sense the cue rather than after we perform the routine. Thus, the Liking system may no longer appreciate the reward of the activity.
We may not like to smoke, but still want to. Kind of questions the whole bit about wanting only what we like. Seems like we sometimes crave for things we really don’t like that much. And if indeed we liked drugs so much, we wouldn’t be checking in to rehab, would we?
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