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How Does a Person Become an Addict?

Whether you or someone you love has become addicted to drugs or alcohol, the big question weighing on your mind is likely to be, “How did this happen?” While there is no one, concrete way that a person becomes an addict, there are a number of factors that contribute to addiction. At some point in the mind of an addicted individual, the way that the brain processes pleasure and reward changes. Unfortunately, there’s no way for any person to go back to “normal” use of alcohol or drugs once they have become an addict. Recovery from addiction is dependent on sobriety. However, it may help to know some of the steps on the path to becoming an addict in the first place, so that you can recognize the tendency in yourself and avoid it in the future.

Addiction is Part of a Larger Problem

Addicts are unhappy people while they are actively in a disease state. While they may insist that they need a substance in order to be happy, the truth is that they aren’t even happy when they have the substance of their choice. There is a saying in alcohol recovery, “One is too many, a million is never enough.” Individuals who are active in their addiction are chasing after a high that doesn’t exist, and taking larger and larger doses to try and achieve the feeling they had the first time they used. The fact of the matter is that these individuals are afraid, angry, and miserable.

Addiction doesn’t happen in a vacuum. While some drugs have a higher potential for addiction than others, there is a distinct difference in the minds of individuals who go on to become addicts versus those who are able to use or take addictive substances “normally.” Some theories even suggest that addiction is not a disease in and of itself, but rather the symptom of a broader mental illness—and the close correlation between mental illness and addiction certainly seems to bolster that conclusion.

 

Addiction Runs in The Family

While scientists researching addiction haven’t been able to conclusively prove a direct genetic link, studies suggest that addiction tends to run in families for a multitude of reasons. In the case of alcohol, the same genes that code for eye pigmentation are the ones that assist the brain in feeling the effects of alcohol. If a person is blue eyed, their likelihood of becoming an alcoholic is increased for the simple reason that their tolerance for alcohol tends to be higher. By the same token, there are some genetic markers that scientists believe are related to addiction—they are markers for the parts of the brain that deal with pleasure and reward. However, the connection isn’t fully explained.

Another aspect of this is that early environment teaches addiction for many people. While an overall tendency from a genetic level is possible, it is undeniable that we learn how to cope with stress and upset from how our parents and loved ones do. A person who grows up in an environment with substance abuse is more likely to develop substance abuse problems later on in life. Things that we are taught at a young age are particularly hard to shake—and it doesn’t have to be a direct lesson. Even just seeing parents and loved ones engaging in substance abuse behaviors in response to stress “teaches” us that this is the way to handle the situation.

While there are many individual paths to addiction, understanding the root causes of the disease are an important aspect of drug and alcohol treatment. While withdrawals from alcohol or drugs are uncomfortable and unpleasant, a healthy life is a major reward.


Our articles are written by individuals who have seen addiction up close. They may have watched addiction take a toll on someone they loved or had their own battles with substances, and they write for us to spare others some of that pain and confusion. If you find these writings useful and would like to speak to someone who gets addiction, call us at (844) 826-1700.

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