Substance abuse disorders are complicated and can have a significant impact on a person. But how does addiction develop? The one thing that is often related to the development of substance abuse disorders is the brain’s reward system. These channels offer the ability to “reward” a person through what it deems “rewarding” activities. There are many problems with this kind of cycle and we are going to go in-depth on how a person develops an addiction.

How does addiction develop?

First off, the use of substances starts off as voluntary. There is a variety of conditions under which a true addiction emerges. Though, the brain changes throughout ways that can take a long time to adjust to a healthy condition during a substance-related illness.

What often happens is a person’s reward system tells them that the use of substances (drugs or alcohol) is rewarding, thus rewarding them with dopamine. Dopamine creates a general sense of euphoria and happiness, thus reinforcing rewarding behaviors. This hormone is most often released when we eat food, have sex, exercise, interact with people we like, or perform any other activity that is seen as “rewarding”.

This could motivate a person to repeat the substance use in an effort to regain that euphoria. In a certain area of the brain that induces a sense of reward, substances create a euphoric experience by releasing large numbers of dopamine. Addiction happens when a person starts to heavily rely on that euphoric high that drugs or alcohol produce for them.

However, a deficiency of substance use eventually causes an unpleasant effect in the body, something we refer to as withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms can be extremely unpleasant and taxing on an individual. In many cases, people continue to use substances because they know just how uncomfortable withdrawal will be if they try and stop using.

Another thing that can have a severe impact on the development of addiction is the user’s substance of choice. For instance, opioids are highly addictive, since they directly target receptors in the brain.

In every individual, addiction evolves differently. A person may use alcohol once and develop addiction slowly over time, while another person may take one line of cocaine and be hooked instantly. The severity of the addiction can grow exponentially with things such as peer or environmental influences.

Which triggers addiction?

The term addiction derives from a Latin expression meaning “slavery” or “required to”. Anyone who has suffered from or tried to help someone dealing with addiction knows just how true this is.

Addiction has a strong and influential impact on the brain, which expresses itself in three different ways: fear for the target of abuse, the loss of control of its use, and its continued involvement following adverse effects.

Researchers believed for many years that abuse can only be caused by alcohol and powerful drugs. However, neuro-imaging and more recent research have shown that the mind can also cooperate with certain pleasurable activities, such as playing games, shopping, and sex.

Identifying Addiction

It can be a complicated process to define a substance abuse problem. Although, there are some symptoms of abuse, others are harder to recognize. Most individuals who know that they have an issue are going to try to conceal it from family and friends.

Entertainment, the internet, and films often portray addicts as people who are poor, uneducated, homeless individuals. The reality is that there is no one demographic that this disease affects, it can affect anyone. No matter how old you are, what culture you come from, or what economic status you hold, anybody can develop patterns of substance abuse.

Addiction detection requires the treatment of any other illness. The manifestations of the unique, medical parameters that describe the condition in question are investigated by the individual.

One of the best tools to find out about addiction is the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The requirements defined in the DSM are generally accepted by clinicians and are used to help with evaluating the existence and seriousness of the disease. Including:

  • Lack of Self-Control and responsibility
  • Inability to limit the use of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Time spent acquiring substances
  • Cravings
  • Problems towards family and friends
  • Tolerance
  • Withdrawal

The time it takes for everyone to develop this kind of disorder into the disorder is different, but evidence mostly suggests that some people might not take long to develop an addiction. Once they have developed, it can start to eat at their daily lives, consuming the control they had over it.

Risk Factors for Addiction

Researchers know how the brain works when someone is hooked. How long it takes to become hooked can be uncertain. Evidence has shown that there are catalysts for addiction and its pace of growth.


Youth is amazing, but an adolescent is essentially a slave to their surroundings. A young child will follow and do whatever is portrayed to them as “acceptable behavior”. If friends and family actively abuse substances without deeming the behavior as unacceptable, the infant will likely grow up to feel as though substance abuse is acceptable and normal.


The development of addiction is far more likely for an individual who has a family history of the condition. A person who has had a parent or grandparents suffer from substance abuse disorders is far more likely to develop the same or a similar abuse condition.


According to research, women acquire substance abuse disorders more quickly and more frequently than men.

Lack of Family Support and Peer Pressure

A dysfunctional home can be tough. A lack of supervision by the parent or spousal contact can contribute to development of substance abuse. Young people are influenced especially by peer pressure. When close friends use drugs or alcohol, that person will be more likely to follow in their friend’s footsteps.

Addiction occurs if the urge to take a substance hijacks parts of the brain that recompense and benefit the body. Disturbances associated with substances also affect the emotion and decision-making area of the brain.

Ultimately, people do not want to be slaves to addiction, but their brain’s reward system is telling them they need to continue the self-destructive behavior in order to feel happy and avid withdrawal. It may sound hopeless to fight against this sort of issue, but recovery is possible. Rehab centers across America are equipped to fight against this kind of issue and they can help develop a more positive mindset so you recover from your disorder.

Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center® holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.