The 3 underlying factors behind unhealthy habits

Unhealthy habits like smoking, excess alcohol consumption, drug use (illicit and pharmaceutical) and increased intake of processed food, usually have 3 underlying causes. 

  1. Psychological: In some way or another, most of the things that we do are to benefit ourselves. Even altruistic behaviours benefit us because helping others makes us feel good. While unhealthy habits may not benefit our physical health, they can often act as a “band aid” or numbing agent for our psychological health. Smoking, alcohol consumption, drug use and increased intake of processed food are usually driven by psychological causes as these substances can be used to help numb and distract us from pain, discomfort, dealing with uncomfortable emotions and give us a temporary high. 
  2. Habitual: Humans are creatures of habit. We tend to engage in unhealthy behaviours in a habitual manner, such as in specific environments, around certain people (e.g. social pressure), at a certain time of the day or when we feel a certain way. These contexts provide a trigger for these unhealthy behaviours.
  3. Physical: Smoking, alcohol, drugs, processed food all have physically addictive properties. The ability of these substances to cause addiction and dependence all vary in certain degrees. Their ability to cause addiction also depends on psychological and habitual factors. Regardless, to varying degrees, they all release chemicals in our brain such as dopamine, which gives us a feeling of pleasure and euphoria. This is why from a psychological perspective; they can be very helpful to ease and numb uncomfortable emotions. 

While smoking and drug use is flat out bad for your health and should be ceased as soon as possible, drinking alcohol in moderation and the intake of processed food in moderation is acceptable in the context of a good diet and lifestyle. Also, when it comes to processed food and alcohol, the context in which they are consumed determines whether or not these behaviours are healthy or not. For example, consuming processed food and alcohol to numb your emotions because you are stressed is very different to consuming these things in moderation with friends, over a nice dinner. The reason behind the behaviour is always more important than the behaviour itself. This will determine whether or not the behaviour is healthy or unhealthy. 

Addressing all three of the main underlying causes is key to putting an end to unhealthy behaviours. Seeking psychological help can allow you to better understand the emotional causes behind your bad habits. Our behaviours are driven by how we feel, rather than logic and rationale, which is why people do things they know they shouldn’t. 

Furthermore, recognising where and when you engage in these unhealthy habits can help you put into place strategies to remove you from these environments. In terms of smoking and drug use, there are various pharmacological treatments to help curb the physical addiction and decrease the effects of withdrawal. When it comes to alcohol and food, various diet and lifestyle strategies can be employed to help decrease physical cravings. Diet and lifestyle change can also help with smoking and drug withdrawal as well. 

Lastly, improving diet and lifestyle habits (as well as supplementation) can decrease the negative symptoms of withdrawal and improve the way people feel about themselves. When people feel healthier, they feel better about themselves, therefore decreasing the likelihood of reengaging in unhealthy habits that are going to take them off their “good path.”

If you would like to explore diet and lifestyle strategies to help assist you in removing unhealthy habits that don’t benefit your health, contact Oak Health today or book a consultation online.