Why do People Become Addicted? – By Lee Weber

If you are reading this, you probably have a friend or family member who is addicted to something, gambling, drugs, alcohol, even sex or the internet.

Maybe you are probably wondering how did they ever wind up in such a bad place in their lives. Therefore, if you are asking the question why do people become addicted? You are really wondering what causes addiction. If you want to better understand addiction so that you can react better to the person you are worried about, we hope to help explain addiction basics for you here. At the end we will answer all your questions about this topic.

We will be discussing the following:

  • What Is Addiction?
  • Statistics, Is Addiction Common?
  • How Do People Become Addicted? Addiction´s Effects In The Brain
  • Why Do People Become Addicted?
  • Signs Of A Problem: Am I Addicted?
    Why Cannot Addicts Say NO?
  • Any Help For And Addict?

What Is Addiction?

Addiction is defined as a chronic relapsing treatable disease, difficult to understand, and that not only affects the addict, but his family and the society around him. Addiction means a person does not have control over whether he or she does something.

The addicted person feels overcome by the desire to use a drug or do an activity. Addiction can be physical, psychological or both. He or she feels there is no choice about taking a drug or doing the activity, and his or her life centers on this need. Addiction is comprised of three stages:

  • Preoccupation/anticipation.
  • Binge/intoxication.
  • Withdrawal/negative affect.

Both addictions to drugs and activities include symptoms of increasing tolerance, withdrawal, mood changes and neglect of social relationships.

Statistics, Is Addiction Common?

Actually, yes. The consumption of chemical substances that produce transient feelings of euphoria or pleasure and the development of dependence on those substances by a subset of persons is as old as the human race itself. Addiction is relatively common in modern societies. It is roughly estimated that between 8-13% of people living in developed countries experience addiction and apart from what you can think, addiction goes beyond Alcohol Cigarettes and Drugs, it includes activities too, these are called non-substance addiction or process addiction and include Gambling, Sex, Internet even work, exercise, food and video games. Currently, the cost of addiction to illicit drugs in the United States is more than 600 billion dollars a year with profound social and economic impacts.

Nevertheless, why do some people get addicted to chemicals and behaviors and others don’t? In other words, what causes addiction?

How Do People Become Addicted? Addiction´s Effects In The Brain

People become addicted to anything first by trying it out. However, scientists and researchers think that the brain of an addict is different. They have noticed that the initial decision to take drugs, gamble, binge drink, or overeat is voluntary. However, what happens then?

Scientists are working to learn more about the biology of addiction. They have shown that addiction is a long-lasting and complex brain disease, and that current treatments can help people control their addictions. But even for those who’ve successfully quit, there’s always a risk of the addiction returning, which is called relapse. The biological basis of addiction helps to explain why people need much more than good intentions or willpower to break their addictions.

Researchers have found that the front regions of your brain can help you decide if the consequences are worth the actions, and that in addicted people that normal hardwiring of helpful brain processes can begin to work against you. Drugs alcohol and behaviors can hijack the pleasure/reward circuits in your brain and hook you into wanting more and more. Addiction can also send your emotional danger-sensing circuits into overdrive, making you feel anxious and stressed when you are not using the drugs or alcohol. At this stage, people often use drugs or alcohol to keep from feeling bad rather than for their pleasurable effects.

To add to that, repeated use of drugs can damage the essential decision-making center at the front of the brain. This area, known as the prefrontal cortex, is the very region that should help you recognize the harms of using addictive substances.

Therefore, what is common among the experience of all addicts is changes in the brain as a result of chemicals or behaviors. Whether or not the brain is predisposed to addiction is still being argued. Nevertheless, most scientists agree that when some people experience a sense of euphoria, pleasure or ease because of drugs or behaviors and those persons continues to do it, and this can start to change the brain over time.

Simply put, the brain of an addict changes over time and makes self-control and the ability to resist intense impulses (cravings) very, very difficult.

His type of alteration of the brain is most obvious in drug use, when neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers between brain cells) triggered by drugs either:

  • Activate nerve cells to send abnormal messages
  • Prevent recycling of brain chemicals or
  • Over produce brain chemicals

The end effect of all of this abnormal brain activity is that the brain of an addict needs more chemicals to achieve the same initial euphoria. Moreover, addicted brains do not function well. An addict’s judgment, decision-making patterns, learning, memory, and behavior control get all out of whack. In addition, when the substance or behavior is not present, an addict will do almost anything to feel “normal” again.

Why Do People Become Addicted?

To be honest, researchers and scientists cannot assure just one cause. In addition, they put out theories of addiction to try to explain why addicts continue behaviors that are often very self-destructive. In some models, addiction is strictly a medical condition and is an involuntary result of use. In other models, addiction is the result of emotional and psychological problems. Still other models look to the need to self-medicate for psychiatric conditions.

Again, right now is not possible to point a specific cause to addiction. Addiction is a complex disease that affects the physical brain, the psychological mind, and the spiritual self. However, scientists look to two major standout reasons for addiction:

  • Addiction is in the genes. Genetics make some people more vulnerable to addiction than others.
  • A person’s environment greatly affects whether or not s/he uses or abuses substances or behaviors. A number of different factors influence substance use, including:
  • Attitudes and beliefs.
  • Family (quality of parenting).
  • Friends (peer pressure).
  • Personality traits or characteristics.
  • Physical abuse.
  • Quality of life.
  • School factors.
  • Sexual abuse.
  • Socioeconomic status.
  • Stress.

Signs Of A Problem: Am I Addicted?

Signs and warnings of addiction problem may include:

  • “Doctor shopping” (moving from provider to provider in an effort to get several prescriptions for the same medication).
  • A person not seeming like himself or herself (showing a general lack of interest or being overly energetic).
  • Anxiety or depression.
  • False or forged prescriptions.
  • Frequent requests for refills of certain medicines.
  • Memory problems.
  • Mood swings (temper flare-ups, irritability, defensiveness).
  • Rapid increases for medication needed.
  • Sleep difficulties.
  • Use of more than one pharmacy.

Why Addicts Cannot Say No?

Many people do not understand why or how other people become addicted to certain things. They may mistakenly think that those who use drugs lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop their drug use simply by choosing to. However, nothing could be further from the truth, It may seem pretty simple to you. If you want to stop being addicted to something, you stop using it.

Nevertheless, the good intention to quit a behavior or a chemical substance like drugs or alcohol take more than just good intentions and willpower. The brain needs a break from the self-rewarding and reinforcing pathway that chemical or behavioral addictions create. Moreover, this period of detox, when the brain seeks its normal state of homeostasis, requires medical supervision.

Any Help For An Addict?

As with most other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease, treatment for any addiction generally is not a cure, good news is that drug use and other kind of addictions are preventable. Results from NIDA-funded research have shown that prevention programs involving families, schools, communities, and the media are effective for preventing or reducing drug use and addiction.

To treat addiction, scientists have identified several medications and behavioral therapies that can help people stop using specific substances and prevent relapse, especially when used in combination. Unfortunately, no medications are yet available to treat addiction to stimulants such as cocaine or methamphetamine, but behavioral therapies can help.

Treatment depends largely on the severity of addiction and the individual person. Some people can stop cigarette smoking and alcohol use disorders on their own. More severe cases might require months or even years of treatment and follow-up, with real efforts by the person and usually complete abstinence from the substance afterward.

Are you worried about a friend, family or loved one? Please leave your comments and questions below. We will do our best to answer them quickly, with qualified and researched based responses.




Reference Sources: 

  • AJP: The neural basis of addiction



  • NCBI: The neural basis of addiction


  • NIDA: Understanding drug use and addiction


  • NIDA FOR TEENS: Brain and addiction


  • NIH: Biology of Addiction


Lee Weber

About Lee Weber

AUTHOR BIO: Lee W. is a writer, mother, and lover in long-term addiction recovery. Her challenge is balance, maybe because she’s a Libra.
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  1. Pingback: I Love Recovery CafeEnjoying a Beauty Boost during Addiction Recovery

  2. Clean explanation.How I wish the rehabs understand this & are forced to come under regulations.Proper regulations need to be implemented immediately just like medical profession.

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