• Rishabh Tomar

Why Do People Become Addicted to alcohol & Drugs?

Updated: Jan 9

Think about an experience that makes you feel good. It could be successfully completing a project at work, eating a warm chocolate chip cookie, or taking a swig of whiskey. It could be a puff of a cigarette or a shopping trip. A dose of Vicodin or a hit of heroin.


Those experiences don't automatically lead to addiction. So what makes a particular habit or substance addiction? What propels some people to seek out these experiences, even if they are costly or detrimental to their health and relationships?

"Addiction is a biopsychosocial disorder. It's a combination of your genetics, your neurobiology, and how that interacts with psychological and social factors," said Maureen Boyle, a public health advisor and director of the science-policy branch at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That means it's a lot like any other chronic disorder, such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. And just like other chronic diseases, addiction is both preventable and treatable, Boyle said, but added that if left untreated, it can last a lifetime. [Do Smokers' Lungs Heal After They Quit?]



Think about an experience that makes you feel good. It could be successfully completing a project at work, eating a warm chocolate chip cookie or taking a swig of whiskey. It could be a puff of a cigarette or a shopping trip. A dose of Vicodin or a hit of heroin.


Those experiences don't automatically lead to addiction. So what makes a particular habit or substance addiction? What propels some people to seek out these experiences, even if they are costly or detrimental to their health and relationships?

"Addiction is a biopsychosocial disorder. It's a combination of your genetics, your neurobiology, and how that interacts with psychological and social factors," said Maureen Boyle, a public health advisor and director of the science-policy branch at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. That means it's a lot like any other chronic disorder, such as type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease. And just like other chronic diseases, addiction is both preventable and treatable, Boyle said, but added that if left untreated, it can last a lifetime. [Do Smokers' Lungs Heal After They Quit?]





From experimenting to getting hooked

As individuals continue with addictive habits or substances, the brain adapts. It tries to re-establish a balance between the dopamine surges and normal levels of the substance in the brain, Morikawa said. To do this, neurons begin to produce less dopamine or simply reduce the number of dopamine receptors. The result is that the individual needs to continue to use drugs, or practice a particular behavior, to bring dopamine levels back to "normal." Individuals may also need to take greater amounts of drugs to achieve a high; this is called tolerance.


Without dopamine creating feelings of pleasure in the brain, individuals also become more sensitive to negative emotions such as stress, anxiety or depression, Morikawa said. Sometimes, people with addiction may even feel physically ill, which often compels them to use drugs again to relieve these symptoms of withdrawal.


How Is Substance Use Disorder Treated


Effective treatments for substance use disorders are available.


The first step is recognition of the problem. The recovery process can be delayed when a person lacks awareness of problematic substance use. Although interventions by concerned friends and family often prompt treatment, self-referrals are always welcome and encouraged.


A medical professional should conduct a formal assessment of symptoms to identify if a substance use disorder is present. All patients can benefit from treatment, regardless of whether the disorder is mild, moderate, or severe. Unfortunately, many people who meet the criteria for a substance use disorder and could benefit from treatment don’t receive help.


Because SUDs affect many aspects of a person’s life, multiple types of treatment are often required. For most, a combination of medication and individual or group therapy is most effective. Treatment approaches that address an individual’s specific situation and any co-occurring medical, psychiatric, and social problems is optimal for leading to sustained recovery.

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