The Secret Behind Why People Become Addicted

October 26, 2022

Ever wonder why people become addicted? It’s actually a lot more complex than you might think.

Despite being a widely researched topic, the reasons that people fall prey to addiction are often misunderstood.

Some people like to attribute addiction to moral failings on the part of the addict or the addict's family, but the reality is that addiction is largely based on a complex interplay between social and biological factors.

Addiction doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor or come from a good family or a broken one. It can affect anyone if the right circumstances are present at the wrong time.

How Addiction Works

Drug addiction is a chronic disease characterized by drug-seeking behavior that causes significant negative impacts on a person’s social, professional, or personal life.

Drugs make you feel good, and eventually, you stop being able to feel good without your drug of choice. Normal activities or behaviors that would usually make you feel good pale in comparison to the feelings you get from getting high or drunk.

In normal circumstances, your brain is supposed to release the chemical dopamine when healthy habits are taking place. This could include spending time with your family, exercising, having a nice meal, getting compensated for work, or any number of things.

The dopamine release is supposed to reinforce good habits or activities with “feel good” chemicals such as oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins, creating a cycle of external work and internal reward.

But once drugs are introduced into that cycle, wires start to get crossed.

That chemical rush provided by drugs doesn’t require any work. Over time, the brain will become dependent on the drug to release dopamine and won’t recognize any other behaviors as rewarding. 

That’s what makes people continue to return to it — even as their lives are falling apart.

The Factors That Contribute to Drug Addiction

What causes some people to become addicted to drugs and alcohol while others are able to use recreationally without significant adverse effects on their lives? Why do people become addicted?

There are a few factors.

Biology

A person’s genetic makeup accounts for 40–60% of all risk factors for addiction.

And although there isn’t one specific “addiction gene” that scientists can point to, they have been able to find a handful of genes that specifically impact a person’s likelihood of becoming an addict.

Some genes affect how drugs are metabolized. Others affect the body’s stress response, which makes them more prone to needing and seeking chemical remedies for stress.

You can get tested to see your risk of becoming an addict based on your genetic profile. Tests like the Genetic Addiction Risk Score (GARS) have been able to predict with a high degree of accuracy a person’s risk of developing an addiction.

However, getting a DNA test isn’t always necessary. If you notice that a disproportionate number of your family members exhibit addictive behaviors or struggle with substance abuse, then you can reasonably assume that you have a higher-than-normal risk of becoming like them.

Environment

If someone is in a neighborhood where access to drugs is easy, and to some extent, unavoidable, that person will be at a much greater risk of developing an addiction.

On the flip side, if a person grows up in an affluent area where parents can afford 24-hour supervision over their children, it will be much harder for them to obtain and use illicit substances.

Some other environmental factors include the presence of stress, income insecurity, and abuse.

Development

Another predictive factor for someone becoming either an addict or a recreational user is the age that they are introduced to drugs and alcohol. 

It’s been found that children who try an illicit drug before the age of 13 have almost a 70% chance of developing an addiction in the next 7 years. 

Even after that, the risk of developing an addiction is still significantly higher for anyone who uses before the age of 25. This is where most medical experts agree the brain has finished developing.

Mental Health

It’s frighteningly common in America and around the world for mental disorders to go undiagnosed. 

Sometimes the issue is money, where families simply can’t afford insurance or expensive psychiatric care.

Another issue is that people can become exceptionally good at hiding their mental health issues and prevent friends and family from knowing something was wrong.

In both of these instances, people with mental health issues are likely to try to remedy their troubles with substances.

When this happens, although temporary relief may be found, the underlying disorder is likely to get worse over time, and the user will be caught in a vicious cycle of worsening symptoms, always sinking deeper into their addiction to alleviate them.

Whatever the reason, if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, you probably need help — you don’t have to do this alone.

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