What Does It Take To Develop A Drug Addiction?

While many of us are quick to moralize, judge, and condemn people with addictions, all of us can develop addictions. The risk is particularly high with drugs that cause physical dependence like cocaine or nicotine, but we can also develop addictions to food or sex for that matter.

Fortunately, most people who experiment with alcohol and drugs do not display signs of addictive or abusive behavior. So, why is it that some of us develop addiction and how is it that this happens?

How Addiction Works

“Pleasure induced through gratification causes an increase in levels of dopamine & over time your brain’s pleasure center, the nucleus accumbens, gets habituated to such a dopamine overload”

Addiction to a substance or behavior cannot be seen as a sign or moral inadequacy or poor willpower, but is a chronic disease in which brain structure and function undergoes marked changes. Addiction creates a dependence on the addictive substance or behavior, resulting in feelings of despair, guilt, shame, isolation, and rejection.

This dependence develops as the brain undergoes changes, as it recognizes pleasure and starts to encourage compulsive behavior. The pleasure induced through gratification causes an increase in levels of dopamine. This overstimulation with neurotransmitters like dopamine produces feelings of euphoria or satisfaction that encourage and cement the addictive behavior.

Frequent and habitual exposure to the intoxicant or activity causes the brain’s pleasure region to anticipate such dopamine overloads, making the person addicted.

Risk Factors For Addiction

Addiction isn’t just influenced by the substance or behavior though, which is why many of us drink, but most do not become alcoholics. The risks for addiction include both biological and environmental factors.


“50% of your addiction risk is based on genes”

There is a strong genetic component to addiction, with individuals who have a family history of alcohol and drug problems being more vulnerable. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse states that 50% of your addiction risk is based on genes!

Mental Health Disorders

“Presence of a pre-existing mental health disorder puts you at greater risk of addiction”

The presence of a mental health disorder like depression makes you more vulnerable to addiction, while the addiction can increase the severity of that underlying condition. Addictive behaviors may seem like a good coping mechanism at first, but this does not last for long.

Age Of User

“The younger you are at the time of first use, the higher your risk of developing an addiction”

The age of first use is also an important influencing factor in the development of addiction. According to the findings of a survey from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the risk of drug and alcohol addiction is much higher in teens and young adults. Incidentally, addictions also pose a higher health risk to young adults because of the potential impairment to brain development.

Choice Of Drug

“Some drugs like cocaine are highly addictive, while those like marijuana do not cause physical dependence”

Not all drugs are equally addictive physically, with some like cocaine and heroin being highly addictive, while alcohol and marijuana are not as addictive. Drugs like cocaine create a physical dependence that makes withdrawal physically painful. This causes users to increase both frequency and dosages, increasing the risks significantly.

Other Factors

Drugs that are injected or smoked usually tend to be more addictive as compared to those that are ingested orally. In addition, men have a higher risk of addiction, while peer pressure also has a huge influence, especially among young adults and teens.

Our Take

Despite the presence of several risk factors, addiction is never certain. However, if you have two or more risk factors it would be a good idea to exercise caution when experimenting with addictive substances. If you believe that you may be developing an addiction or area already addicted, seek help from a counselor or psychologist.


Caption: Ever wonder why some of us become addicts, while others do not?

Desc: Don’t be a victim

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