available 24/7, 365

(888) 989-1479

How Addiction Develops

Table of Contents

Abusing drugs or alcohol does not always result in an addiction. In some cases, individuals experiment with a substance and then walk away from it. Other individuals show signs of chemical dependency and addiction quickly after using a drug once or twice. In some cases, a loved one even develops an addiction to prescription medications after using the substance for legitimate medical reasons.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (1) explains that addiction is a complex disease of the brain and no single factor causes addiction in any individual. Due to the complexity of the situation, a loved one needs a compassionate treatment program that recognizes the underlying factors that contribute to substance abuse and addiction.

Substance Use and Chemical Dependency

Although many individuals do not develop chemical dependency or addiction immediately after abusing a drug, consistent substance use directly impacts the risk of an addiction. Web MD (2) states that regular substance use increases the risk of chemical dependency and addiction because an individual continues abusing the substance and changes the brain.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (3), the primary reason an addiction develops is related to how a loved one’s brain changes over time. Regular substance abuse alters the brain’s reward system, says the National Institute on Drug Abuse (3).

Over time, it causes a tolerance and then compulsive, drug-seeking behavior. An addiction occurs when a loved one compulsively abuses drugs or alcohol, even when it causes negative consequences to their relationships, physical health or emotional well-being.

Risk Factors for Addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (1), a combination of factors contribute to substance abuse and addiction. The original reason a loved one uses a drug depends on their specific situation and circumstances. For example, a traumatic experience or the loss of a loved one directly results in excessive drinking and contributes to the development of an addiction.

See also  How Addictive Behavior Leads to Pathological Lying

Factors that contribute to substance abuse and addiction include:

  • Lack of social connections or poor social relationships
  • Problems within the family
  • Environmental factors, such as being surrounded by substance abuse at work or in the home
  • Traumatic experiences, like sexual abuse, physical assaults or even a severe car accident
  • Early drug abuse or experimentation
  • Genetic risk factors

Several factors contribute to substance abuse, so the best treatment solutions depend on a loved one’s specific situation and concerns. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (4) says that an effective treatment program recognizes that several factors contribute to an addiction and provide a personalized treatment program so that a loved one obtains their recovery goals.

Treating an Addiction

Substance abuse and addiction stem from multiple situations. An addiction develops over time as a loved one abuses drugs or alcohol. Encouraging a professional treatment program allows a loved one to focus on their recovery goals and start making realistic plans for long-term improvements.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (4) recommends a treatment program that addresses multiple risk factors and health concerns while creating a personalized treatment plan. By addressing specific health concerns and needs, the program helps a loved one avoid drugs or alcohol in the future.

Help Is Available

Addiction occurs when a loved one abuses drugs or alcohol long enough to develop a tolerance. Depending on the situation, the amount of time before an addiction develops will vary; however, the complexity of the disease remains similar for any individual showing signs of dependence and addiction. By addressing the underlying causes of substance abuse, a treatment program helps a loved one recover.

See also  Personality Traits in Addiction


  1. DrugFacts: Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction, The National Institute on Drug Abuse, November 2012,
  2. How Addiction to Alcohol and Drugs Develops, Web MD, March 12, 2014,
  3. DrugFacts: Brain and Addiction, The National Institute on Drug Abuse, May 7, 2015,
  4. Principles of Effective Treatment, The National Institute on Drug Abuse, December 2012,


Give us a call

Help is one step away

100% Confidential | 24/7 Helpline

Addiction & Mental Health Topics

Gender-Specific Approaches to Addiction Treatment and Recovery

Addressing Co-Occurring Disorders in Addiction Treatment

Managing Chronic Pain Without Opioids in Recovery

Setting Healthy Boundaries in Recovery

The Importance of Self-Care in Maintaining Sobriety

Overcoming the Stigma of Addiction and Seeking Help

How to Handle a Loved One’s Relapse and Support Their Recovery

The Link Between Addiction and Trauma

What Is the DEA?

Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms