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How does addiction develop and what are the key factors involved?

Several factors impact a person’s risk of addiction. However, before discussing these factors, it is crucial to have a clear idea of what addiction is and what it is not.

What Is Addiction?

Simply put, addiction is a disease that affects the brain. It can alter the brain structure and the way the brain works. In the same way that cardiovascular disease affects the heart’s function, addiction impedes the brain from functioning normally. Drug addiction is a chronic disease. However, like other chronic diseases, it is preventable and can be treated.

Drugs affect the brain in several ways. One is by interfering with the communication between nerve cells and how they create dopamine. When a person takes an addictive substance, their brain produces more dopamine.

Dopamine makes you feel good. The more dopamine that is released, the more a person will want to get that dopamine high again. With time, the body becomes accustomed to having higher levels of dopamine. As a result, a person loses the ability to experience joy and pleasure from everyday activities. Instead, they need to keep doing drugs to maintain a happy, joyful, or pleasurable feeling.

The need to seek that dopamine high becomes the driving force in a person’s life. The pleasure they get from hanging out with friends or being in other people’s company is replaced by an irrational drive to seek out drugs.

A popular myth is that addiction is the result of a moral failing. The truth is that it is a treatable disease that has a physical, emotional, and psychological impact on the person suffering from it.

What Factors Contribute to Addiction?

Drug addiction and alcohol addiction are ongoing problems in the United States and around the world. Researchers have devoted a considerable amount of time to see why people become addicted to drugs and why others who use the same drugs do not develop an addiction. Several factors can contribute to addiction. Some people may only have one of these factors and are less prone to addiction, whereas others may have several factors, increasing their propensity to develop an addiction.


Genetics plays a role in the development of most diseases. If there is someone in your family who has dealt with substance abuse in the past, it does not guarantee that you will become addicted to a substance as well. In the same way, a person in your family having cancer does not automatically mean that you will develop cancer.

However, because a member of your family has a problem with addiction, genetically speaking, there is a greater propensity for you to become an addict if you use drugs. Statistics indicate that genetics contributes to up to 60 percent of the risk of someone developing an addiction.

Your Age When You Started Taking Drugs

Research indicates that the younger a person is when they start using drugs, the more likely they will develop an addiction as they age. A critical factor in this is how a person’s brain develops, especially when they are a teenager. When a person uses drugs during their formative years, they can become more vulnerable to addiction as they get older. Studies have shown that most people who develop substance use disorder begin using drugs between the ages of 18 to 24.


Statistically, men are more likely to abuse and use drugs than women. There are some noticeable differences in how drugs affect the male body as opposed to the female body. There are also differences in the drugs that men and women use. Research shows that men are more inclined to use alcohol and marijuana. Women are more likely to become addicted to drugs that lower anxiety levels. In recent years, some of these statistics have been changing.

Mental Illness

If a person has several mental illnesses, there is a higher chance that they may abuse drugs. There are several reasons why this is true. One could be that the drugs give the user a sense of well-being and euphoria. It is also possible that certain mental illnesses will impact the parts of the brain that are also affected by drugs, thereby increasing the propensity for abuse.

Unstable Home Environment

Children who grow up in a home where their parents are involved and provide a stable home environment have a decreased chance of using or abusing drugs. Conversely, children who grew up in an unstable environment, especially one where parents are addicts themselves or have a mental illness, have an increased chance of using and abusing drugs.

Growing up in an Environment Where Drugs Are Present

Suppose you were growing up in an environment where drugs were readily available or in an environment where friends and family members used drugs. In that case, this is going to impact the likelihood of developing an addiction. There are some environments where it is just easier for people to get drugs. Because the drugs are there, they decide to try them.

Looking Beyond Risk Factors

While the above-mentioned risk factors do play a role in whether a person will develop an addiction, it is vital to go beyond simple risk factors and understand the human psyche. The psyche plays a huge role in making one person different from another person.

Two people could come from families where addiction was present and both could be exposed to people who used drugs, but one person will develop an addiction and the other will not. This does not mean that one person is stronger or weaker than the other. It means that the individual psyches of people differ.

It is important to remember that idea, especially when discussing addiction treatment. Since no two people have the same road to addiction, no two people will have the same journey to recovery. For recovery programs to be effective, they need to treat people as individuals and provide a safe, inviting environment that is conducive to recovery.

Enlightened Solutions provides a safe and inviting environment where recovering is our top priority. Contact us with any questions or if you need help with addiction.


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