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Habit or something more? Know the difference and when to help

04 December 2019

Mental health
Some people cannot start the day without a strong cup of coffee, others cannot ever be without their mobile phone and for some the workday has to end with a glass of wine. Clinical Psychologist Jae Lee explains the difference between a harmless habit and addiction, and when to get help.

Firstly, the definition of habit and addiction.


Habits are something you do regularly and often on autopilot.

They develop over time and, with repetition, usually become an unconscious part of your day-to-day routine.

You can have habits that are good for you such as regular exercise, preparing and eating healthy meals or putting your keys away in the same spot every time so they’re easy to find. Other habits may be less desirable such as eating junk food late each night as you watch TV or chewing your nails.

Whether they’re harmless, positive or actually bad for you, habits can be hard to break.


Addictions can look like habits in that they involve regular behaviours often done on autopilot.

Addictions are more complex because they also involve physiological and/or psychological needs as drivers.

By definition addictions always have negative consequences - on your health, finances, relationships, or self-esteem.

Do I have a habit or addiction?

If your habits are hard to break and you also find yourself:

  • doing the behaviour more often or to a more extreme degree
  • feeling anxious if you can’t engage in the behaviour
  • being asked questions from your loved ones about your behaviour
  • missing work, school, social activities or home responsibilities because of the behaviour

You may have an addiction.

What are the most common types of addiction?

In Australia the four most common addictions are:

  • alcohol
  • smoking
  • illicit drugs
  • gambling

There are now addictions to mobile phones, and since smart phones, other online applications such as gaming and pornography.

What should I do if I think I have a problem?

The first step is acknowledging the problem. The next step is to seek help.

Your GP is a good place to start as they can refer you to specialist health professionals with the right experience and skills.

Find someone who works with you to explore what’s happening for you and collaborates with you on how best to address problems and improve your quality of life.

St John of God Burwood and Richmond hospitals provide a range of programs to address your addiction, including programs targeted at drug and alcohol addiction.

St John of God Health Care
Jae Lee - Clinical Psychologist

Jae Lee is the St John of God Richmond Hospital Director of Allied Health and is a clinical psychologist with more than 17 years’ experience in mental health. Jae has worked in public and private settings, hospitals and community services and has a special interest in trauma and complex trauma. Jae holds a Bachelor of Science with Honours and a Masters in Clinical Psychology from the University of New South Wales.