Mind Tweaks

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How Does Addiction Start?

4 min read

Life is a complicated process of navigating your existence from one day to the next and finding a purpose to anchor you through the struggles that come and go. We all want to be happy and content while on this journey, but often, it can be overwhelming. This leads to coping mechanisms that can be positive or negative, where they may build resilience and strength or serve to numb the pain.

Addiction is often born from these struggles. While using substances to affect your mood may start as fun and a useful distraction, they often lead to an addiction that overtakes you. Treatment centers can provide the support needed during this difficult time.

Why does this happen? How does addiction start?

The pursuit of dopamine

We all want to feel good, and whether it is from an experience, the sound of music playing, your favourite food or other pleasurable activities, they all release dopamine from our brains.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that relays messages between neurons and is the reward centre, giving us pleasure, motivation and satisfaction. We as a species are pleasure seekers, and dopamine serves as a natural, healthy fix when produced through memory and experience. Unfortunately, dopamine can also be released by the use of drugs and alcohol.

When we get our natural fix, the cravings stop once the behaviours have begun, but drugs alter the chemistry to keep the craving going, and the result is the need for more intoxicants to chase that feeling. This leads to repetitive use to keep the dopamine flowing. Our receptors adjust and are reduced or overloaded, and we need more stimulants to activate the pleasure centres.

Use by choice

Nobody chooses to be addicted but rather start drug use for the first time for various reasons. Many people drink alcohol socially, and it enhances their night but isn’t habitual. While they receive the “hit,” it doesn’t draw them into a cycle of abuse.

Often, people want to experiment with other drugs to see what they feel like, and they may have friends that pressure them, or they try on their own. Depending on the drug, most people get a positive, euphoric reaction, especially when using it with other people, and it is a party atmosphere that you freely experiment with. Then you go back to normal life until the next weekend or party, where it is available for use again.

Drugs cause the brain to release more dopamine than it should, and the absorption rate is blocked, so the happiness sensation is prolonged. The brain records this information in its memory, and the next time we use it, the brain’s pleasure centre malfunctions again, but this time, it needs a little bit more substance to get there. You are still choosing to take drugs, but you need more to create the same wonderful effect.


Like a great piece of chocolate cake, we tend to crave that which gives us pleasure. Most things are positive and work to enhance our bodies and well-being, but drug use is very detrimental to us. As the cycle continues, simple things in your life don’t give you the same joy without the drugs. Activities that you used to find pleasure in lose their lustre and seem pointless, leading you to take drugs to release the feel-good hormones again. Drug use then starts to become the priority.

Cravings can be triggered by different stimuli like drug paraphernalia within sight, thoughts about usage or friends that you use with, and are accompanied by other psychological symptoms like:

  • Negative moods
  • Shaking
  • Salivation
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Intense urges to use
  • Loss of concentration and focus
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

People will start a steady use of drugs to alleviate symptoms and immediately feel better, but this cycle will only spiral downward.

There is concern about potential gateway drugs, but regardless of legal substances like cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, or illegal drugs, they all feed the brain to create a positive result of euphoria.

Risk Factors

Not everyone who drinks alcohol or smokes pot will become addicted, and it is not just their body chemistry and mental state that makes the difference. Beyond that are situational triggers that can lead to addiction, and it usually is one small step downward, along a dark staircase toward addiction.

There are, however, some common factors that increase risk overall.

  • Family history of addiction
  • Behavioural and impulse control problems
  • Peer pressure
  • Mental health disorders
  • Trauma exposure

These and other risk factors can be the tipping point to addiction.

This is how addiction starts. The best thing you can do for someone travelling the path of addiction is to be there to support them. This can be a positive influence to not use and a partner participating in healthy outlets for pleasure. For someone deep into addiction, you can offer support through access to professional care at a healing facility.

Ultimately, while it is not your direct problem, you can be the anchor in their storm and help keep them from smashing into the rocks. Life is precious; sometimes, a person needs some help and support.