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What Causes Drug Addiction?

While some people can use recreational and prescription drugs without becoming addicted, many individuals who start using drugs become physically and emotionally dependent on them. Drug abuse causes vary greatly, depending on each individual and the extent of his or her addiction. The extent of a person’s vulnerability to his or her addiction depends on their social environment, their mental and physical health, and their genes. There are countless other factors that contribute to drug addiction as well. Once a person is addicted to drugs, he or she generally needs professional help and support to overcome their addiction.

Understanding the underlying causes of an addiction can help and addicted person to deal with the issues that lead to their drug abuse. For some individuals, the cause of their drug abuse is solely due to peer pressure. For many others, however, the reason for their excessive drug use is much more complicated.

Recreational Drug Use

Drugs on the spoon and tableMany people who become addicted to recreational drugs, such as speed, cocaine, marijuana, and heroin, start taking drugs on an experimental basis. The majority of individuals who experiment with recreational drugs do so during their teenage years, but it is becoming more common for individuals to start with recreational drugs during adulthood. During the experimental stage, most people do not think that they will become addicted. In fact, in many instances, recreational use does not lead to drug abuse. There are many reasons why people start experimenting with drugs. Many do so because they want to fit in with their peers. Others start using drugs because they want to enhance their energy or improve their athletic performance. It is also common for individuals to use drugs in order to cope with stressful jobs, events, and people. Some individuals start experimenting with drugs in order to deal with intense feelings of anxiety or bouts of depression. While some can experiment once or twice with drugs and decide to never use them again, others seem to become addicted to recreational drugs immediately.

“One major reason why people become addicted to recreational drugs is because the majority of them contain addictive substances.”
One major reason why people become addicted to recreational drugs is because the majority of them contain addictive substances. It is difficult to determine how much of a particular drug it takes for a person to become addicted because each individual reacts differently to each drug. One person may be able to use a particular drug daily and still remain in control of how much and how often they use the drug. Another person can take the same drug once and develop an intense and continuous craving for it. It is also common for individuals to become addicted to the way a particular drug makes them feel. For example, an individual who wants to stay awake for long periods of time due to work obligations may become addicted to a narcotic that makes it possible to function with little or no sleep. The person will initially love the fact that he or she is able to accomplish more throughout his or her day, but this narcotic addiction will eventually become problematic.


Infants born to mothers who use recreational drugs are 60 percent more likely to have birth defects than infants born to drug-free mothers.

Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug abuse is much more common in adults than in teenagers; however, there has been a drastic rise in the number of teens who abuse prescription drugs. Adolescents can gain access to narcotics, barbiturates, amphetamines, and other prescription drugs on the streets, and many of these drugs are being sold by those who have prescriptions for them. Teens can also gain access to these drugs by going through their parent’s medicine cabinets and drawers. It is quite easy for underage kids to gain access to prescription medications because so many adults use them. Painkillers, antidepressants, mood enhancers, sleep aids, and anti-anxiety pills are commonly prescribed to adults by physicians, and these drugs have the ability to ease mental and physical discomfort within minutes.

Prescription drug abuse can be just as problematic as recreational drug abuse. Many individuals believe that taking prescription drugs continuously is not as hazardous to a person’s health as taking street drugs, but nothing is further from the truth. Many recreational and prescription drugs are made with the same addictive substances, and a person can overdose on prescription drugs just as easily as they can on recreational drugs. The majority of doctors who prescribe medication to their patients provide strict guidelines on how each patient should use the drug. However, doctors cannot monitor their patient’s activities once they leave the doctor’s office, so they have no control over whether or not patients follow the directions printed on their prescription bottles. Some patients even manipulate doctors into giving them higher doses of a particular drug in order to feed their addiction. In many cases, doctors find out that a patient is addicted to a prescribed drug after the dependency is formed.


In the United States, one out of every 15 patients taking prescribed painkillers develops an addiction.

How does Addiction Occur?

The majority of individuals who abuse drugs during adulthood suffered some form of abuse or neglect during childhood. Suffering a traumatic experience during childhood is one of the most common reasons for drug abuse in teens and adults. Also, those who were born to drug-addicted mothers have a high likelihood of becoming addicted to the drug that the mother was taking during her pregnancy. The individual was genetically predisposed to the drug, making it easy for him or her to become addicted to the drug if it is ever consumed. A family history of drug abuse can also predispose a child to a particular drug. For example, if an individual’s great grandfather, grandfather and father have an opiate addiction, the father’s child has a high likelihood of developing an opiate addiction if he or she ever experiments with the drug.

“Suffering a traumatic experience during childhood is one of the most common reasons…”

Once a person becomes addicted to drugs, the function of his or her brain alters. When excessive amounts of prescription and recreational drugs are taken, the dopamine levels in a person’s brain begin to surge, triggering feelings of euphoria and intense pleasure. The longer the drug is taken, the shorter the feeling of euphoria lasts, which means that the person must consume more of the drug to get the same effects. The brain begins to crave the drug because of the physical sensation the drug provides, which is why it is so difficult for individuals to stop consuming drugs after becoming addicted. The change in a person’s brain function will eventually make it difficult for the person to make sound decisions and think clearly. Eventually, the addiction will affect virtually every aspect of the person’s life.

The individual’s craving for the drug will eventually become uncontrollable, which may cause him or her to say and do things that he or she normally would not do in order to feed the addiction. Positive relationships, health, happiness, family, and career enhancement come secondary to the individual’s desire to get high. It is also common for those who are addicted to drugs to find ways to rationalize their addiction. Often, drug addicts do not admit that they have a problem until they are ready to seek help. Some people are able to recognize they need help after everything in their lives changed for the worse, and others require continuous intervention from family members and friends.

Countless individuals enter drug rehabilitation centers each year and are able to successfully detoxify from both prescription and recreational drugs. Physically withdrawing from recreational and prescription drugs is a medical process that must be monitored by a physician or practitioner who is familiar with the withdrawal and detoxification process. During this process, medical practitioners can help addicted individuals to ease their withdrawal symptoms by administering medications to them and by providing tips and tricks that will help to make the detoxification process less intense. The detoxification process typically lasts a few days. However, most individuals who undergo treatment at rehabilitation facilities sign up for at least three months. This is because most drug treatment centers provide counseling and other services to help individuals to deal with the underlying causes of their addictions.

Many practitioners consider the psychological support that rehabilitation centers offer to be more important than physically withdrawing from drugs. If the person does not receive psychological help, he or she can quickly redevelop an addiction to drugs.


Physical cravings for drugs generally go away after seven to 10 days of detoxification.

Signs and Symptoms of Drug Abuse

Even after an individual determines the causes of their drug use, they still may not be able to recognize whether or not they’ve become addicted. The following signs and symptoms of drug abuse are common in individuals who are addicted to either recreational or prescription drugs:

  • Problems developing or maintaining relationships with others
  • Continuous cravings for drugs
  • Cravings for increased doses of drugs
  • Taking more drugs to avoid coming down off of the drug
  • Anger or aggression when the drug is unavailable
  • Feelings of powerlessness
  • Abandoning activities that cause you pleasure
  • Lack of motivation
  • Feelings of depression
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or others

One of the reasons why it is so difficult for individuals to overcome their addictions is because it is very easy for people of all ages to get access to drugs. Teenagers who use drugs often continue using drugs through adulthood, which is why it is essential for parents and caregivers to intervene in order to help an addicted teen. Many individuals associate drug use with teens from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, but many teens who abuse drugs live in economically advantaged communities. In fact, these teens can access drugs more easily than economically disadvantaged teens because they have more money.

While the majority of teens start using drugs in order to escape some form of emotional pain, many teens start using drugs as a form of rebellion. Some teens rebel in order to get the attention of their parents, while others rebel due to immense pressure from their friends. With the help and support of family members and friends, many teens are able to overcome their addictions and go on to live healthy lives as adults. If you are a teen who is addicted to drugs or a parent who wants to help your teen, there are organizations available that specialize in providing psychological counseling and drug withdrawal services for addicted adolescents.

Regardless of the cause of a person’s addiction, the majority of health practitioners consider drug addiction to be more psychological than physical. This is why the majority of treatment centers offer psychological and group counseling for up to one year after addicted individuals have completed the detoxification process. Dealing with the causes of drug addiction is a process that takes time and ongoing support. It is never too late for a person to undergo counseling in order to deal with the issues that lead to his or her drug abuse. If you need help for a relative or loved one who is addicted to drugs or would like to get support, call our free national referral service at , or complete the contact form on this page.

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