How Do You Become Addicted to Drugs or Alcohol? Here Are 13 Reasons Why


Addiction affects everyone, but not everyone the same way. Why do people become addicted to drugs or alcohol when others do not? How does someone become an alcoholic, while another can drink without repercussions?

How or why someone becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol varies per individual. Some people can drink or use drugs every weekend and not need it during the week. Some people cannot function normally without it, and they need it every day.

Even though we have a better understanding today of the science behind addiction, many still believe that people become addicted because they have ill morals or lack willpower. This could not be further from the truth. Addiction is a disease that needs professional help to treat.

Becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol is often the result of underlying issues. People try to cover up these issues with drugs or alcohol. Whether it is a painful past, an ongoing life stressor or an untreated mental health issue, most addicted to drugs or alcohol became that way because they were trying to self medicate the pain they feel.

So, how does a person become addicted to drugs or alcohol? The answer varies and is based on a number of factors, including what they are using as well as their biology and other uncontrollable factors. Here are the 13 reasons why someone becomes addicted:

    • Drug Content

The main answer to the question of how does someone become addicted to a drug is found in the drug itself. One of the most accurate predictors of an addiction developing is the type of drug being used. Some drugs pose little potential for addiction. Others can cause addiction with just one use.

Highly addictive drugs are universally highly addictive for each individual. Here are the “big ten” in order:


      • Heroin — Made from the resin of poppy plants, heroin teaches the brain to want or need it by mimicking the natural chemicals of pleasure, pain reduction and endorphins. Heroin is arguably the most addicting substance.
      • Crack — The smokeable crystal form of cocaine, crack is an efficient and cheap high. The rush is extremely intense and short-lived. Using crack does extensive damage to the brain.
      • Nicotine — Prolonged nicotine use teaches the brain to want it in order to function normally. Most people don’t realize it is a stimulant drug. An average cigarette yields about 1mg of nicotine.
      • Methadone — Methadone is an opioid medication that slows the breathing and helps an addict not want or need heroin by reducing its withdrawal symptoms. While it can help people quit using heroin, methadone is highly addictive itself. The trade-off for quitting heroin by using methadone is developing a different addiction.
      • Crystal meth — Also called meth, crank, chalk or speed, crystal meth causes the user to be high while also being very awake. This is a reason why it’s a popular recreational drug. Its addiction factor is so high, however, that one would have a difficult time managing it strictly for recreation.
      • Alcohol— The depressant alcohol can have potentially deadly and highly uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. It is a depressant because it slows down all vital function of the body, including reaction time, movement, breathing and speech.
      • Cocaine — Also known as coke, C, snow and blow, cocaine has such rapid highs and lows that the lows plummet deeper and deeper with each use, and the highs are less effective. This tricks the user into thinking they need more to get high — while also making the overdose rate for this drug very high. Cocaine is also often cut with unknown substances, so you never know what you’re actually getting.
      • Amphetamines — Stimulant and appetite suppressant amphetamines, such as Adderall, cause extreme fatigue when they are stopped, making the user want more to simply stay awake. These drugs raise heart rate and blood pressure, and they should only be used for medical reasons such as narcolepsy and ADHD.
      • Benzodiazepines — Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, are sedatives generally used to treat anxiety. They have an extremely high rate of tolerance — the user needs more to get any effect after a short period of time.
      • GHB — The depressant GHB lowers your tolerance for alcohol. It is also called the “date rape” drug because it causes blackouts that sexual predators use to commit crimes. In addition to blackouts, it causes euphoria and increased sex drive, so it’s popular at raves and parties. It’s odorless and colorless. GHB can be bought in the streets or over the Internet.

The best way to prevent addiction is through education. Knowing how drugs can affect your health, life and future is key to preventing drug use. Speak to your children about how drugs can cause addiction and the many negative effects addiction can have on lives — both the life of the user and the user’s loved ones.

    • Biology

How does someone become addicted to alcohol or drugs? By changing their biology.

When something feels good, it’s affecting the actual structure of our brain — it enhances the reward pathway. Dopamine plays a key role in this process.

Dopamine, a nerve chemical — also called a neurotransmitter — helps brain cells communicate with one another. It also is involved in mediating pleasurable feelings one gets from rewarding activities, such as eating or having sex.

Drugs either mimic dopamine or stimulate its release at higher-than-normal levels. That is why drugs produce strong feelings of pleasure. These feelings of pleasure are closely tied to memory and judgment. We don’t forget good feelings, we don’t forget where we got them from, and we’ll do anything to feel them again.


Teens innately have less dopamine because of puberty and the changes it causes within the body. Many believe teens are at higher risk of using drugs or alcohol — and ultimately developing an addiction — because they naturally have lower levels of dopamine. They seek out drugs and alcohol to increase levels.

Different drugs affect our reward pathways differently. Different people are also affected differently. Those who are naturally manic prefer downers — such as alcohol and benzodiazepines — while those with naturally depressed central nervous systems tend to crave stimulants — such as amphetamines and cocaine.

The important thing to remember is that there are many pathways to the reward centers of the brain that don’t include drugs. We can find enjoyment and fulfillment in life by choosing activities that don’t cause harm to ourselves and others.

    • Personality

How does someone become addicted to drugs or alcohol? By having an addictive personality in the first place.

Some people are just naturally more compulsive than others. While one person may need to eat every last donut in the box, others can feel fulfilled after having just one.

Those with more compulsive tendencies are also more prone to addiction. This isn’t a personality flaw, but a trait causing one to desire a life in the fast lane — a spontaneous and go-getting ability that can be a benefit when used to obtain the right things in life. Despite what many people say about addiction and personality not being related, personality does affect compulsive behaviors.

If your personality tends to be a more compulsive one, you can still overcome your addiction. The key is finding a rehab program that can be customized to your unique personality traits. The program should give you the tools you need to better manage your compulsions.

We all need proper coping skills to monitor how we indulge our desires, and we need to acknowledge and control them rather than change our personalities. Indulging every desire not self-love.

Psychologist Carl Jung was the first psychologist to say that drugs didn’t just change the mood, but rather the whole inner world on a deeper level of psyche functioning. He stated that recovery must involve the spiritual search for a sense of wholeness, collecting all parts and personalities within so they can live together and integrate harmoniously.

    • Tolerance

Level of tolerance also plays a role in how addiction develops. Tolerance is when a drug no longer pleases the user the same way it used to, and they need more of the drug to get high or even feel normal. Tolerance usually happens right before addiction and co-occurs with it after. Tolerance can happen with any prescribed medication, illicit drug or alcohol.

Tolerance is also a contributing factor to overdose. When one quits using, his or her tolerance drops. If he or she uses again, the individual will not realize how little is needed to achieve the high. This can result in taking too much for the body to process, resulting in overdose.

    • Mental Health


Mental health and behavioral illnesses go hand and hand with addiction. Many find it to be similar to the chicken and the egg paradox. Mental health illness can cause addiction, and addiction can cause mental health illness.

Often people try to self medicate to treat the symptoms of a mental health illness. Either they are not properly diagnosed, or they don’t have the resources to get the help they need to overcome their mental health issue.

While mental health issues can increase one’s chances of becoming addicted, the drugs used can increase the symptoms of the illness. For example, war veterans suffering from PTSD have a high rate of addiction. Drugs, however, can enhance the PTSD symptoms. This is why dual diagnosis treatment is very important.

Many suffering from addiction and mental health issues turn to counseling, but treatment may require more than individual therapy alone. The best programs for those suffering from mental health illness are ones with trauma and mental health specialists. Because so many parts of one’s life come into play when addiction occurs, each needs to be treated with special attention.

When someone has a co-occurring disorder, it cannot be treated properly while that person is drunk or high. Drugs and alcohol can either mask or enhance a mental health disease. Addicts will typically use a substance for as long as they think it is helping them, and it isn’t until they learn otherwise that they will seek out sobriety.

    • The Availability Of A Drug

How easy it is for one to obtain a drug can affect how easily he or she becomes addicted to it. Drugs are like fads in fashion or technology — there are always new trends, and those new trends are produced in direct relation to consumption. Drugs are a matter of economics (supply and demand).

Because most drugs are internationally imported, they can be like a seasonal fruit in regards to fluctuating pricing. When the shipments come in and are readily available, then the drugs are cheaper and easier to get. When there is a shortage, the drug is harder to get.

A small supply of one drug can also lead to an addiction developing for a different one. Perhaps someone is addicted to cocaine, but the coca plant, which can only be grown in high dry areas such as Columbia, isn’t shipped into the United States. Since the user can’t access cocaine, he or she might escalate to using crack. While crack requires less cocaine when combined with baking soda, it’s a more potent substance that’s far more addicting.

Availability can also lead to a decrease in use of a particular drug. As a drug becomes more popular, society makes efforts to prevent and treat the addiction it causes. Cocaine is one example of a fad drug that lead to education efforts. Snorting cocaine was the “it” thing to do in the ‘80s. A strong public campaign, however, helped to increase the understanding of its addicting properties and decrease the number of people using the drug.

    • Damage Done to the Brain

Drugs damage the structure of the brain. The resulting damage from using drugs can lead to the development of addiction.

When the rush of neurotransmitters is induced by drug use, the user has trouble producing those same chemicals on their own — chemicals necessary to survive and feel good. Everyday life events become less pleasurable. The brain’s ability to create good feelings is naturally weakened. This is called “down regulation” in dopamine.

What most people don’t know about dopamine is it’s not only associated with pleasure, but it’s also associated with the act of wanting. Dopamine is the chemical that makes you want things: to work harder, work out more, be outside, eat sugar and do drugs. Wanting can be a good thing if you want the right thing, but it can be bad when you want those things that can cause you or your loved ones harm.

Glutamate is another neurotransmitter. It is associated with the ability to learn. Drugs also interfere with this, which affects judgment and decision-making. When someone is constantly getting high, they are not learning or growing in any developmental way. The addict often takes on the persona of a child, and that’s when it gets hard to blame him or her for anything.

Prolonged drug use causes paranoia and aggression. The user may want more drugs in an attempt to try to counteract these issues. While the struggling individual may be trying to decrease these issues, he or she is actually causing them to get worse.

    • WithdrawalWhen one decides to stop using, he or she can suffer from uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms differ based on the drug taken, the amount consumed and the frequency the drug was used. Withdrawal symptoms can range from life-threating — as can be the case with alcohol or benzodiazepines withdrawal — or uncomfortable and seemingly unbearable — as often is the case of opioids.

What all withdrawal symptoms have in common is the urge to use again just to make the pain stop. This leads to addiction.

Withdrawal is proof that addiction is very much a physical dependence. When a user stops, he or she can experience flu-like symptoms, tremors and pain. While it can feel like punishment, detox is actually a positive step in the right direction.

The body must go through detox before it can repair the damage addition has caused. For the best results, users should seek a rehab with a managed detox. Withdrawal symptoms can often be treated with medication to help ease pain. Managed detox care also ensures your body gets what it needs to rebuild.

    • Environment


Environment can play a key role in one’s addiction development. Environment can mean relationships, workplace, school atmosphere, family life or socioeconomic background.

Some people in poorer areas use their involvement in the drug trade as a way to survive. This may cause someone to be hooked to a drug as well, as drugs are a way of life. Also, relationships with parents and peers at school greatly influences a child or teen’s involvement with drugs. Different drugs are more popular in different socioeconomic areas, and as you learned before, the content of a drug matters when pertaining to why someone becomes addicted.

An addict in recovery does not always surround himself or herself with people who can teach and demonstrate the right path to sober living. While someone attempting sobriety might not get every step right the first or tenth time, those in the program can all step together to see better results. The person who is trying is the person to try with.

Being around a supportive community or sponsor makes a difference. Healthy relationships and a good conscience will all make a positive social environment easy for anyone to achieve. Praiseworthy feedback is a commendable thing that not everyone has the privilege of receiving.

    • Level of Functioning

One’s level of functioning while using can lead to an addiction. Users can become addicted because they learn to function with their dependence on drugs or alcohol — and don’t learn to function without it.

Some addicts are completely functional, meaning they have probably not had any serious ramifications — such as job loss, relationship turmoil or legal issues — to make them think that they need to change their ways. The functional alcoholic drinks a little bit throughout the day and night, so that outsiders can usually not tell, but they are always drinking and depend on alcohol in some way to get through each day.

It is estimated that less than 10% of those who try drugs or alcohol form a full-force addiction, but the definition of addiction is shaky. Those who are addicted may not know or admit it. Generally, an addiction is a dependence in which someone cannot function without a substance. We can’t tell if some people are addicted because they function just fine always on the substance.

If you imagine a certain life for yourself — no matter if it’s right or wrong — there is a good chance that’s how it will work out for you. Those who are not ready to let go of their substance of choice will factor it into their lives in any way possible.

    • Poor Preventive Methods


Without prevention, there is a greater chance of addiction developing. A teen or child may not be properly educated about the harms of using. Prevention isn’t a matter of telling a child to stay away from drugs, but rather showing them how drugs can diminish health if they choose to use them.

Different areas of the country have different levels and quality of educational programs, and this includes drug education. Education is a solvent for many issues, especially drug use. To prevent someone from using is preventing a potential addiction.

    • The stigma

The stigma of drug use and dependence cause many to not seek treatment. Someone can realize he or she has a problem, but the stigma attached to addiction renders him or her too ashamed to come forth with it. Without treatment, dependence evolves into full-blown addiction.

If someone makes you feel like you have to apologize for your disease, then that’s not your fault. Guilt and regret are wastes of feelings and take the space where other feelings — such as confidence, self-love, motivation and empowerment — can fuel recovery.

During recovery, fear can be a very limiting feeling. Fear can be a reason for an addiction to escalate. Sometimes someone fears stopping because it means facing the damage they have done.

    • Quality of Rehabs

Sometimes, someone is an addict because he or she hasn’t gotten proper treatment. Because addiction has distinct causes, it requires personalized comprehensive treatment. Not all rehabs acknowledge this.

12 Best Keys Rehab understands how addition affects every aspect of life. We also understand how addiction varies from client to client. That is why we customize our treatment plan for your specific needs, goals, interest and challenges.

Our holistic rehab program includes treatment for the mind, body and spirit with recreation, peer meeting, detoxification, psychiatry, 12-step meetings, spiritual guidance, family therapy and more. Ours is a well-rounded, non-cookie-cutter program.

Not only does our approach provide healing for every level, it makes the process of healing enjoyable. People tend to not want to get help because it seems like the path of least resistance, but eventually, on their own, they learn that this is not true.

12 Keys proves more one-on-one counseling than mostly any in the industry. This is because we have a small client-staff ratio. With less of a caseload, our specialists are able to provide the individualized care you need to enjoy lifelong addiction recovery.

Don’t spend another day struggling with addiction. Call us today at 800-338-5770.

The Addiction Blog