The addictiveness of habit

Habit, dependence, addiction, compulsion, craving, fixation, ritual. Each one of these words has a similar underlying meaning and are often used to describe the continuing act of smoking or vaping, and by extension an “addiction”. But what does it mean exactly?

As my brain slowly clears from the almost overwhelming amount of research publications, conferences and media stories nagging questions come to the fore. This one in particular has bothered me ever since my smoking days. What exactly is a habit and are habits the basis of addiction?

Habit

So a habit (ignoring the fact that it can also be a long loose garment worn by members of religious orders), is a regular tendency or practice. So sparking a smoke at regular intervals or even at the same time each day can easily be classed as a habit. This we knew already, but is it an addiction?

That would partially depend on the next definition.

DependenceDependence. The question here is, are you dependent on using a vapor product or lighting up a tobacco product? Do you rely on having your vapor product nearby or in your hand? I do have one minor problem with the definition, that of the feeling of being controlled. In my own experience I didn’t feel controlled to light up, nor do I feel controlled when I toot on my SubTank. Control is the power to influence something or someone. With that loose definition, there may indeed be an element of control, as we are often influenced either via a craving or sometimes an external event.

To depend on something is to fundamentally require or need it. As smokers or vapers, we do not need nor require to perform the ritualistic motions of hand to mouth, inhale and exhale. So by that definition, we are not dependent on the products we use. We are of course dependent on oxygen to survive, food and fluid so our body (and us) can function, but we are not “addicted” to any of that.

So far, the creation and continuation of a habit can’t be classed as an addiction, it is more of a routine that we get ourselves into, like going to bed at a certain time each evening, eating lunch between 12 & 2 P.M.

Dependence therefore cannot be classed as an addiction. However, the media, public health as a whole, and tobacco control specifically, categorically state that smoking is an addiction. Stop smoking professionals talk about cravings, as though they are the root cause of the “need” to smoke or vape. By definition, a craving is a strong or powerful desire for something. Cravings can also be classed as hungeryearning or even a simple want. I want a new gaming console, but I don’t have a powerful desire for one.

So what is it exactly that we “crave” so much that it gets classed as an addiction?

DefinitionAddiction. It is without doubt quite a nasty feeling word.

“The condition of being abnormally dependent on some habit, especially compulsive dependency on narcotic drugs”

Some definitions of the word addiction specify that it is a physiological or psychological dependence on a “substance”. Let’s look at those two for a second:

  • Physiological – refers to the normal, healthy operation of the human body
  • Psychological – relates to our mental and emotional state

Expanding on those, in most cases the human body does not require the intake of nicotine or any of the other constituents of combustible tobacco for normal healthy operation. But, there is evidence that the habit of smoking specifically does have an effect on the persons emotional state. Smokers especially are known to claim that the act of smoking has a ‘calming’ or a ‘de-stressing’ effect, furthermore many smokers enjoy smoking.

By those claims, smoking is an addiction. But what about vaping? So far, no vaper (that I am aware of) has made claims that the act of vaping has any effect on their mental or emotional state. Nor have any claims been made referencing the normal operation of the human body. Claims have been made; and I too can attest to these claims having experienced the benefits of vaping myself, that vaping has a beneficial effect and there is documented scientific evidence that vaping actually improves the operation of the human body. Specifically the improvements are seen in those that suffer from respiratory ailments such as Asthma and COPD, which is technically “normal” operation for those, but it isn’t “healthy operation” of the human body.

For smokers, there is a psychological effect and for vapers there is a physiological effect, both of which are seen as positives by both groups, one can be classed as addictive by definition whilst the other cannot. But what about the compulsive dependency mentioned in the definition?

Compulsive behaviour, regardless of what that behaviour is; results from, and is often related to an irresistible urge. There are many definitions for ‘irresistible’, but in the context of addiction can be classified as an uncontrollable craving for a smoke or a puff on a vape device. On the flip side, no vaper I know or am aware of exhibits compulsive behaviour as a result of irresistible urges or uncontrollable cravings for the use of their device.

Smokers on the other hand have been documented to get increasingly anxious when they go without for a length of time. I can indeed attest to that as I would often get snappy or antsy if I wasn’t able to light up for lengthy periods of time.

By technical definition, smoking is an addictive behaviour although the link is tenuous at best, whilst on the other hand vaping can not be classed as addictive by any interpretation of the definition.