What causes addiction and other little known facts

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**This post is about what causes addiction. It contains affiliate links. That means, if you make a purchase, I receive a small commission at NO additional cost to you.**

Do you know someone who suffers from addiction? Chances are you do, and don’t even know it. According to one study, in 2017 about 19 million adults suffered from addiction. So many people live with it, and their loved ones have no idea.

What is addiction?

Psychiatry.org says addiction is:

…a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence. People with addiction (severe substance use disorder) have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s), such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life. They keep using alcohol or a drug even when they know it will cause problems. Yet a number of effective treatments are available and people can recover from addiction and lead normal, productive lives.

So, what can people be addicted to?

The following are just some of the things people can be addicted to:

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • PCP, LSD and other hallucinogens
  • Inhalants, such as, paint thinners and glue
  • Opioid pain killers, such as codeine and oxycodone, heroin
  • Sedatives, hypnotics and anxiolytics (medicines for anxiety such as tranquilizers)
  • Cocaine, methamphetamine and other stimulants
  • Tobacco

People can also be addicted to certain behaviors. For instance, I am addicted to clipping my toenails and picking at my nails.

Why do people become addicted?

There are a few reasons people begin taking drugs. Addiction is complicated, so this is going to vary person by person. Someone might identify with one thing on this list, or they might identify with more than one

To feel good

Many people take drugs or abuse alcohol because it makes them feel good. They might feel a distinct high or elevation in mood.

To feel better

Often times, drugs make people feel better physically. They can temporarily reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, or depression.

To do well

Drugs can also be used as performance enhancers. Perhaps a person is stressed at work about how much pressure they have to perform well.

Curiosity/peer pressure

This is all too common. Sometimes people only see the “good side” of drug use (how good it temporarily makes you feel, etc.) They think this good feeling is how it always is, and it convinces them to try drugs. They might also have a friend who uses who gets them to agree to try it.

What causes addiction?

Addiction symptoms can be generally lumped into a few different categories: impaired control, social problems, risky use, drug effects.

Impaired control

Drugs can affect our judgment and physical capacity. Do you ever notice that when you have too much to drink your inhibitions lower and you feel a little dizzy? Maybe VERY dizzy? This is an example of impaired control.

Social problems

Drug and alcohol use can also cause different social problems. Some examples of this are: problems with romantic relationships, poor work performance, and alienation from parents and siblings.

Risky use

Different substances can contribute to a lot of risky behavior. Using one drug can lead to a person trying a drug that is more dangerous. People might also engage in dangerous sexual situations because their inhibitions are lowered.

Drug effects

Two different effects of drug and alcohol use are tolerance and withdrawal. Regular drug use can cause your tolerance to increase. This means that you could end up taking a dangerous amount of drugs, trying to recreate the feeling of your initial drug experience.

Withdrawal is another experience many addicts have. When they attempt to stop using the substance they are addicted to, they enter a period of withdrawal which can make them feel physically sick, and create emotional disturbances as well.

What in a person’s brain causes them to become addicted?

A disease is a condition that changes the way an organ functions. Addiction does this to the brain, changing the brain on a physiological level. It literally alters the way the brain works, rewiring its fundamental structure. That’s why scientists say addiction is a disease.


So, according to this definition, addiction is a medical disease. It is the same as being diabetic or epileptic. No one forces a person to engage in their initial drug or alcohol experience, but people do not choose to become addicted. It is a part of their brain, the way bipolar disorder is a part of my brain.

Addiction facts

  • According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 19.7 million American adults (aged 12 and older) battled a substance use disorder in 2017.
  • Almost 74% of adults suffering from a substance use disorder in 2017 struggled with an alcohol use disorder.
  • About 38% of adults in 2017 battled an illicit drug use disorder.
  • That same year, 1 out of every 8 adults struggled with both alcohol and drug use disorders simultaneously.
  • In 2017, 8.5 million American adults suffered from both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder, or co-occurring disorders.
  • Drug abuse and addiction cost American society more than $740 billion annually in lost workplace productivity, healthcare expenses, and crime-related costs.

(Source: https://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/addiction-statistics)

Check out this post for some other facts about mental illness.

Treatment for addiction

While there is currently no cure for addiction, there are a number of resources you can utilize to help fight it.

SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) national helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

Addiction Resource: 1-888-974-5086

Addiction Resource center: 1-833-301-HELP (4357)

Alcoholic’s Anonymous: https://www.aa.org

Narcotics Anonymous: http://m.na.org

Additional resources

Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change

I Want to Change My Life: How to Overcome Anxiety, Depression and Addiction

Mastering the Addicted Brain: Building a Sane and Meaningful Life to Stay Clean

What causes addiction, addiction, substance abuse, drug abuse, mental health, mental illness

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What do you need to do?

At the end of the day, addiction is such a difficult subject. It affects so many, and like I said earlier, thousands of people suffer in silence.

What can you do as an addicted person?

Seek help. There is no shame in admitting you have a problem. Check out one of the services listed above, and connect yourself with a good therapist. Everyone starts somewhere, and it might be a lifelong journey. But you CAN do it.

What can you do as a friend or family member of an addict?

  • Love them
  • Check in on them regularly
  • Drive them to appointments
  • Bring them meals
  • Help them with childcare
  • Help them with housework

What else? Did I miss anything?

Do you know someone who is addicted? Do you have any tips for managing addiction and its side effects? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

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6 thoughts on “What causes addiction and other little known facts”

  1. poofbeegoneblog

    This was a very thorough and easy to understand blog. Topic is very much needed in our world today. Not only should we be aware of our addictions but knowing their root cause can help in being free of them.

  2. I don’t subscribe to the disease model of addiction myself, the changes that happen to our body as a result of addiction come afterwards, not before.

    Even people at higher risk of becoming addicted to drugs, like BPD suffers like myself, can abuse drugs and alcohol without ever becoming addicted.

    You can also become addicted to pretty much anything. If you do something or use something often enough for a reason, like to avoid negative feels, the more you do that, the stronger the pathway for that behaviour is, and thus the more likely that behaviour is to be activated when those negative feelings return.

    Do this often enough, and it’s pretty much an automated behaviour that requires little thought, like cleaning your teeth.

    Replacing your unhealthy coping behaviours with healthy ones can improve recovery. For example, having a lollipop instead of a cigarette, to satisfy the oral fixation whilst at the same time still giving your hands something to do, should help give up smoking

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