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How an Addiction Develops

Have you ever wondered why addiction is such a common problem in our society today? Until today, we still don’t fully understand what addiction is and why it’s caused. However, we do have some theories as to what constitutes an addiction and how it develops.

The most commonly known addictions are addictions to substances like :

  • Nicotine
  • Alcohol
  • Illegal drugs like cocaine.

But there are many other types of addictions like addiction to :

  • Sex
  • Gambling
  • The internet
  • Junk food.

How does an addiction start?

In spite of all the different types of addictions, most of them start the same way. Simply put, a person can start to become addicted to something because they enjoy the way it makes them feel.

If a person tries a drug and it makes them feel good, this is because their brain’s pleasure center is rewarded with a feel-good substance called dopamine.Drugs like cocaine and heroine are known to release abnormal amounts of this substance into the brain. This surge of dopamine gives a person a rush or a high, and the activity done is registered in the reward system. When this is registered into the brain, the person feels a need to do this activity or drug whenever they want to feel good, and that’s how addiction starts.

You might be wondering why a person would even indulge in a potentially addictive activity to begin with. Whether it’s something that seems harmless, like eating a burger or going shopping, or it’s something more dangerous, like trying an illegal drug or binging on alcohol, the reason is usually the same. All these activities and substances are used as methods of achieving pleasure and avoiding any displeasure. This is why most addictions are more likely to begin when a person is going through a difficult phase in their life, such as the loss of a job or a loved one.

How does the addiction develop?

Like we mentioned above, the brain registers that the activity or substance done makes the person feel good and helps them avoid unpleasant emotions.

But it develops further because the brain eventually builds a tolerance to these feel-good substances. Suddenly, one gambling session or one line of cocaine doesn’t have the same effect anymore.
The person then feels the need to up their dosage to get the same high they’re used to reaching. This then ends up becoming an endless cycle, and doses might increase to even more dangerous levels.

Furthermore, the brain starts to prioritize this addiction over anything else. This is why most addicts end up having problems maintaining friendships, relationships and their social life. An alcoholic decides that they prefer to drink alone rather than spend time with family, or a cocaine addict prefers to spend their money on cocaine rather than on an evening out with friends. This becomes an irresistible urge rather than a conscious choice.

Why is it so difficult to quit?

From the outside, it may look like an addict is choosing to become addicted and that they can “just quit” if they want to. However, it’s important to note that this brain cycle can seem impossible to quit if you try doing it alone.

One problem is that most addicts don’t realize that they’re addicted to something, and they probably deny it when someone faces them with that fact. Another problem is that –even if they try to quit- their body and brain might tell them otherwise and then they tend to relapse. This is why addiction is considered a serious problem that requires professional help.


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