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How Does Addiction Start?

Every individual is different and will have or lack various predispositions that can contribute to developing an addiction.

Addiction was once thought of by the general public as a consistent display of poor judgment in the form of choosing to habitually engage in detrimental substance abusing behaviors. While the diagnosis of addiction has begun to shift, shedding some of the associated negative stigma, it has quite a ways to go before it is truly acknowledged by society as the mental disorder it is. Addiction, also referred to as substance use disorder, is a mental disorder listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) that is characterized by compulsively engaging in rewarding stimuli without regard for the ensuing and inevitable negative consequences. An individual that struggles with addiction will put satisfying his or her drug and/ or alcohol craving above all else. This can wreck havoc in all areas of one’s life. 

how does addiction start?

Risk Factors 

While there is currently no single reason behind why an individual develops an addiction, research has identified several contributing risk factors that have been said to increase its risk of development. Medical News Today provides the following examples:

  • Family history of addiction
  • Genetics  
  • Method of delivery
  • Personal health history
  • Age at which a person first began to consume drugs and/ or alcohol
  • Environment (i.e. growing up in/ living in an unhealthy home environment, persistent peer pressure, regular exposure to illicit substances and/ or alcohol…etc.)
  • Exposure to childhood neglect, trauma, and/ or abuse
  • Type of substance abused

There are a myriad of individuals that regularly partake substance use and/ or consume alcoholic beverages who do not develop an addiction. Hence, not every person that uses drugs and/ or drinks alcohol will go on to develop an addiction. However, continuous and frequent substance and/ or alcohol use can increase one’s susceptibility to developing a tolerance and subsequently an addiction. It is important to note that addiction does not develop overnight, nor should an individual expect his or her recovery from addiction to occur overnight. The treatment process for recovering from an addiction will require steadfast dedication and will be a lifelong commitment.

Gateway Drugs

While the notion of gateway drugs remain controversial, Merriam-Webster defines a gateway drug as “a drug (such as alcohol or marijuana) whose use is thought to lead to the use of and dependence on a harder drug (such as cocaine or heroin).” Although there are certain substances that are inherently more addictive than others, gateway drugs are not considered to have highly addictive qualities. Gateway drugs function as an introduction to engaging in illicit substance use and normalizing the use of drugs and/ or alcohol. Engaging in seemingly harmless substance use can be a slippery slope, as it likely provides exposures to other substances and could provoke frequent substance use. 


Habitual use of any substance can lead to increased tolerance, meaning an individual will require more of the substance (stronger potency, frequency of use, etc.) to achieve the same feeling. Frequent abuse of a foreign substance will result in physiological changes in one’s body. When an individual constantly reintroduces foreign substances into his or her body, it must make accommodations to properly function with the presence of the substance. When a substance that one’s body has become accustomed to functioning with is absent, or has less of the substance in his or her system, it will react and be unable to function optimally. When a tolerance is built such that an individual requires daily use of the substance, he or she has likely developed substance dependence. When an individual is unable to stop using drugs and/or alcohol without experiencing withdrawal symptoms, he or she has some level of dependence. The longer an individual that struggles with drug dependence continues to use drugs, the greater he or she increases his or her risk for developing a full-blown addiction.

happy after treatment

Further Information

Substance abuse and addiction can be incredibly dangerous.

If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, please get help as soon as possible. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. There is no reason to go through this alone. Please feel free to reach out to us for further information or with any questions regarding substance abuse or addiction. 

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