not habit forming

I’ve always seen commercials for medications which advertise them to be “non-habit forming”. That doesn’t make sense to me. Anything that can be habit-forming. I can be in the habit of tying my right shoe first before my left shoe.

I think what they really mean is that these medications are not addictive.

So why don’t they say that the medication is not addictive? Is there a difference in this context, between “addictive” and “habit-forming”?

None. “habit-forming” = “addictive”

There’s gotta be a difference. “Our medicine isn’t addictive” implies that other medicines are addictive. Wouldn’t an advertising person love to use that line, if he could? So why don’t they?

IMHO there is a gray area between “habit-forming” and “addictive.” I don’t know if the U.S. FDA defines it. But there are many drugs that are psychologically addictive, that is, there is no chemical addiction but you just really like using it. Some sleeping pills might fall under this category, where it becomes a crutch.

Other drugs, such as caffeine, nicotine, heroin, and other narcotics create a physical addiction replete with physical withdrawal symptoms if you stop.

Oddly, a Google search on “can be habit forming” produced more than a page of humorous uses.

My WAG is that the word “addictive” has such a negative connotation they probably don’t even want it mentioned in the ad.

The two terms still mean the same. It’s just a choice of synonyms. Any actual distinction does not indicate a real difference.

Now the connotation of “addictive” may be so negative that advertisers don’t want to use it. “Habit-forming” is a somewhat less harsh way of saying the same thing.

You can strain to find some distinction, but, really, anything addictive (even in the most technical sense) is habit-forming. They used to speak of “a drug habit,” meaning the same thing as a drug addiction. You could argue about psychological vs. physical addiction, but there’s no consistent use of the terms being used for one or the other. A psychological addiction can be called a habit, as can a physical one.

It like a “pre-owned car” vs. a “used car”: two synonyms, but one used more often in advertising.

Is it possible that it happened this way?

  1. Makers of drugs that are addictive/ habit forming argued like heck to be able to use the term “habit forming” to describe their product, because people would freak out if they had to put “may be addictive” on their packaging and ads.
  2. The opposite of “habit forming” is “not habit forming,” so now that gets used where applicable.

Keep in mind that most of the relevant companies make both kinds of drugs.

This from dictionary.com:

". producing or tending to cause addiction: an addictive drug.
2. more than normally susceptible to addiction: an addictive personality. "

I submit that, in addition to the reasons above, to describe a substance as “addictive” is grammatically confusing, because the second meaning is used even more than the first.