How Addiction Develops

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Drug addiction, also known as substance use disorder is a disease that affects the brain and body. This condition triggers irrepressible behaviors and makes a person unable to control their use of drugs. When you are addicted to a certain substance, you will feel compelled to use it no matter the damage it poses to your brain, body, and life.

It is a problem that starts slowly and becomes worse as it progresses. When trying to find out what causes drug addiction, researchers have discovered that it’s a problem that often starts as a recreational activity. Also, some prescriptions like painkillers are known to be highly addictive. Once an addiction has developed, the patient will be dependent on the drug.

What causes drug addiction in a person and the risk of drug addiction depends on the drug, and the person using the drug. How the drug is administered also determines how addictive that drug is. Smoked and injectable drugs have a direct effect on the brain, which makes them more addictive. Once a person becomes an addict, they will need to use the drug increasingly frequently. When an addict stops using the drugs, they experience intense cravings, which is a symptom of addiction and withdrawal.

What causes drug addiction?

There are no definite causes of drug addiction. However, there are several factors, including physical and mental health issues that can contribute to drug addiction. Here are some of the common factors that contribute to drug addiction.

  • Biology – research has revealed that a person’s genetics usually account for nearly half of their risk for drug addiction. Factors like gender and other mental disorders can increase the chances of drug addiction.
  • Genetics – how a person’s brain and body react to certain drugs is partly determined by their inherited traits, which are found in their genes. Therefore, it is essential to understand that these traits can either slow or speed up the way you develop an addiction.
  • Environment – certain environmental factors like educational opportunities, associating with peer groups that encourage or tolerate drug abuse, access to healthcare, your attitude and beliefs, exposure to drugs at home, and your family’s history of drug addiction are some of the factors that contribute to the causes of drug addiction.

The biology of what causes drug addiction

The biological theories of what causes drug addiction stress on the significance of your genetics. Many of these biological theories suggest that your brain’s structure, chemistry and genetic abnormalities contribute to your behavior. However, most of these theories haven’t been applied or tested to any particular causes of drug addiction.

According to these theories, everyone has his or her unique genetics and physiological causes of drug addiction. In addition, they state that people are different when it comes to how they consider certain addictive activity or substance. Some people can enjoy an activity or substance so much to the extent it becomes hard for them to resist. Others wouldn’t have this challenge since they don’t experience such pleasure from it.

Similarly, the ability to control certain impulsive desires with rational thinking is a part of brain function that varies between different people. Naturally, some people find it challenging when it comes to resisting particular impulses. As a result, these people have a higher risk of developing drug addictions.

The genetic causes of drug addiction (search for links)

survey by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) trying to determine the causes of drug addiction revealed that genetics contributes to around 50% of drug and substance addiction risk. According to this survey, three factors influence your ability to engage in certain behaviors. These factors include:

  • Your motivation – these are both the reflective and automatic mental processes that determine your behavior. This includes your more chosen, conscious approaches about drug use, and the ecstatic experience you feel just after using a certain drug. Therefore, we can conclude that motivation is one of the greatest causes of drug addiction.
  • Your capability – this is your physical or psychological ability to engage in drug usage.
  • Your opportunity – these are the social and physical factors in and around your environment. They include the age at which you first used drugs, which can either promote or constrain the behavior.

The environmental causes of drug addiction

The environment plays a critical role when it comes to the causes of drug addiction. This is because your environment greatly influences your behavior. Some of the environmental factors that lead to drug addiction are:

  • Lack of social support
  • Drug usage among your peers
  • History or neglect or abuse
  • Stress
  • History of irrational behavior
  • Socioeconomic status

It is not an easy task to change some of these environmental factors like the socioeconomic status. However, there are certain things that can assist you to mitigate some negative environmental factors. These can assist you to fight the causes of drug addiction or even prevent it from starting. One way is to foster environmental motivators that cultivate good behavior, like job training and educational attainment. Vigilant family members and friends can also inspire positive behaviors and participate in sober activities with people at risk of drug abuse. All the actions mentioned above, and others, can assist in managing the environmental factors that can contribute to the causes of drug addiction.

Different types of drugs and how they affect the brain

Many drugs can affect your brain in one way or another. A recent survey has revealed that every drug has certain effects, which are unique to that particular drug. Therefore, let us look at the different types of drugs and how they affect the brain.


These are also known as barbiturates and they usually produce a calming effect once used. Even when used in low doses, these drugs will still affect you and you will start experiencing reduced motor-coordination. Some sedatives act as anesthetics which help in decreasing sensitivity to pain. When it comes to the central nervous system, sedatives usually suppress your nervous tissues. This affects your brain stem and forebrain, which blocks your ability to be aroused or excited.


These drugs stimulate the central nervous system. When you use stimulants, you might start feeling a sense of increased alertness, euphoria, loss of appetite, and reduced depression. Stimulants usually increase the number of signals relayed to different parts of your brain, thus increasing your brain activity. Most of these brain parts are known to control the different functions of your body. One notable thing about stimulants is that they can increase dopamine and norepinephrine, chemicals found in the brain.


These are powerful drugs prescribed to people suffering from chronic pain. When you use this drug, it activates the opiate receptors found in your entire body and brain. When an opiate reaches your brain, it immediately stimulates the opiate receptors located in the different parts of your brain. As a result, you can start experiencing euphoria and pain relief. Research has revealed that euphoria can change your mind and affect your motivation, emotions and behavior. When you use opiates for long, they can change the functionality of your brain and change the shapes and synapses of your brain cells.


Once used, hallucinogens usually change your perceptions of reality, and they can affect your brain as they cause hallucinations as well as other sensory changes. DMT, LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, and peyote are categorized as hallucinogens. Two things put these drugs into the category of hallucinogens:

  • Distortion of sensory acuity
  • They show signs of cross-tolerance

That means a person who uses hallucinogenic drugs can have a higher tolerance to hallucinogens the more they use them. Hallucinogens can increase serotonin levels in the brain, which inhibit rapid triggering of neurons that contain serotonin. This can cause the levels of serotonin to rise while reducing the activity levels of serotonin neurons.

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Causes of Substance Abuse

As mentioned earlier, there are several causes of drug addiction. Also, a survey has revealed that some people are more susceptible to drug addiction compared to others. In addition, it is essential to understand that there is nothing that can control what causes drug addiction. However, certain risk factors can significantly determine if you are prone to the causes of drug addiction. On the other hand, you will be at a reduced risk of what causes drug addiction if you have more protective factors. Nevertheless, it is essential to understand that both the protective and risk factors of what causes drug addiction can be either environmental or biological.

What causes drug addiction – risk factors

Anyone can be a victim of drug addiction, regardless of their age, sex, economic status, or race. Everyone has the ability to become an addict of drugs. However, there are some risk factors that increase the chances of drug addiction in some people over others. Therefore, when trying to understand what causes drug addiction, it is important to note the following risks factors that contribute to drug addiction:

  • Family history – among the causes of drug addiction, family history plays a very significant role. There are some families with a history of drug addiction. However, there is no apparent reason for what causes drug addiction in these families, but genetic and environmental factors play a big role. People with blood relatives addicted to drugs, especially a full sibling or parent, are at a higher risk of drug addiction.
  • Social pressure – when trying to determine what causes drug addiction among youths, social pressure is one of the major causes of drug addiction.
  • Mental health issues – people suffering from mental disorders are at a higher risk of the causes of drug addiction. Some of these psychological issues include bipolar disorder, ADHD, PTSD, anxiety, and depression.
  • Adverse childhood experiences – this is considered to be one of the major causes of drug addiction. People who had adverse childhood experiences like sexual, physical, or emotional abuse are at a higher risk of drug addiction. Trying to get out of or forget these experiences is often what causes drug addiction.
  • Use of highly addictive drugs – use of drugs like stimulants, opioids, and cocaine can increase your chances of drug addiction. It is important to note that this is among the major causes of drug addiction.

Bottom Line

Trying to understand what causes drug addiction can go a long way when it comes to tackling the menace of drug addiction. In addition, it is important to note that some of the causes of drug addiction can be controlled, which means the problem of drug addiction can be dealt with right before it starts. Therefore, addressing the root of what causes drug addiction can be the first step towards addressing these issues permanently.

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance use disorder, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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