Have you developed a habit that you want to stop because it's affecting your life in a negative way but find it impossible to quit? We all have developed bad habits in our life that we would like to change because the habitual behavior is having a negative impact on our lives. It's hard to make changes once we develop a habit though, which happens through repetition, and it's frustrating because even though it's a negative habit, we can't figure out why it's so hard to stop.
Naturally some bad habits are worse than others like smoking, drinking, and substance use but even before a person becomes addicted it's still hard for them to stop even if they want to. The same is true for people who want to start eating healthy so they can lose weight or just feel better but again, even though they want to, they can't. Being obsessed with food and overeating, gambling, or compulsive use of social media sites are very common harmful habits many people have developed and are struggling with today because these behaviors are having a negative impact on their life.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) shares insight as to why bad routines are so difficult to break. By studying what takes place in our brains when habits are formed "NIH-funded scientists" were able to find clues as to why it's so hard to kick them once they're developed.
The director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow, explains how "Habits play an important role in our health". Some habits are actually helpful in our lives as Dr. Volkow explains, "We wake up every morning, shower, comb our hair or brush out teeth without being aware of it". Not all habits are helpful though and develop because some events that are enjoyable like overeating, gambling, smoking and substance use trigger dopamine to be released in the brain.
Dr. Russell Poldrack is a neurobiologist at the University of Texas Austin who goes on to explain "The general machinery" by which we build both kinds of habits are the same, whether it's a habit for overeating or a habit for getting to work without really thinking about the details". According to Dr. Poldrack "there's one important difference".
Dopamine is released in the brain during enjoyable behaviors. "If you do something over and over, and dopamine is there when you're doing it, that strengthens the habit even more. When you're not doing those things, dopamine creates the craving to do it again according to Dr. Poldrack.
This makes complete sense to me and explains why certain habits that are negative are so very hard to break. There isn't one specific way to break a bad habit, according to Dr. Volkow "It's not one size fits all". The good news is even though it's difficult changing a bad habit, it isn't impossible. If you're like me and have developed a habit you would like to break, this NIH article is extremely informative and gives various approaches that may help you kick it. Another excellent source of information you may find helpful in understanding why it's so hard to break bad habits can be found on cbsnews.com.