How Addiction Starts & Risk Factors

What is Addiction Part 2: How Addiction Happens & Risk Factors

Estimated watch time: 4 mins 33 secs


Addiction is a treatable disease of the brain that affects its reward and pleasure centers. Some people are more vulnerable to addiction than others. In this video, we’ll discuss some of the risk factors that make a person more vulnerable to addiction, and how addiction happens in the brain.

As you watch, take note if any of what applies to you to decide if you’d like to seek help. There is a worksheet under ‘Related Content’ that can be used as a template, too.

Video Materials:


How Addiction Happens?

Hi, everyone and welcome to this lesson on ‘How Addiction Happens’.

So how come some people can use drugs or alcohol in a recreational manner and some cannot? And how come some people are more vulnerable to addiction than others?

It has to do with the risk factors that we have. Some people have more risk factors that increase the likelihood of them becoming addicted.

Some of the risk factors are:

  • You have at least one family member who suffers from addiction.
  • You’ve had depression, anxiety, PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder or other psychological problems.
  • Your parents or other role models used alcohol or drugs excessively around you when you were growing up or your parents or other role models engaged in criminal behavior consistently when you were growing up.
  • You had friends and acquaintances who were using drugs and alcohol when you were in your teens.
  • You had trouble as a child in school. Maybe you had a learning disability or you had poor grades.
  • You had difficulty making or keeping friends or feeling like you fit in with your peers when you were growing up or there was a lot of chaos and conflict in your home when you were growing up. For example, if you had a lot of fighting between the adults in your home.
  • You were physically or sexually abused.
  • You started experimenting with alcohol or drugs as a child or in early teen years.
  • You smoked or injected drugs.
  • You had some traumatic experiences in your life prior to starting the use of drugs or alcohol excessively.

So how many of these were true for you?

The more risk factors you have, the more vulnerable to addiction you are.

Genetics also plays an important role. If you have one parent who is addictive, you have a 40 to 60 percent chance of becoming addicted yourself. If both of your parents are addicted, that increases to 80 percent. So if you have a genetic predisposition and then you add in one or several of these other risk factors, then you are someone who becomes more vulnerable to the disease of addiction. So this is why some people can use recreationally and some people aren’t able to.

Now, addiction is a disease of the brain.

So using alcohol and drugs excessively over time alters how the brain functions.

Luckily, addiction is a very treatable disease. It’s no longer thought of as a moral failure or a voluntary choice, or at least it shouldn’t be. Most of us have the knowledge now to know that it’s actually a compulsion, which means your actions related to drug and alcohol use becomes dominated by your impulses.

Our brains have a pleasure center, a reward center. And when we use alcohol or drugs. This pleasure center is activated to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the person.

So any time any human does something that’s pleasurable, whether that’s eating food that you like, drinking, listening to certain music, taking drugs, going shopping, spending money, gambling….Our reward system releases chemicals called neurotransmitters. And they act as messengers between nerve cells. These messages between the nerve cells release the pleasure chemical dopamine. And when we release more dopamine we feel great and we want to repeat the behavior. So for some of us, drugs and alcohol release higher amounts of dopamine, leading to a euphoric feeling. And this leads to even more intense desire to repeat the experience, which is what can lead people to addiction.

This can happen with drugs, alcohol, relationships, sex, spending, gambling. Everybody’s different and different people have different experiences to these behaviors. Eventually, repeatedly chasing that euphoric feeling leads to destructive use.

For some people, when we use too often, we overuse our dopamine supply. And this behavior ends up no longer leading to good feelings, which is what happens after you’ve been addicted for some time. And then that leads to depression, hopelessness, a lack of interest in things that we used to enjoy. And this leads to needing more of the substance to experience joy.

So hearing this. What do you think? Do you believe you have a drug addiction? Do you feel that you’re an alcoholic? Or you might be an alcoholic?  If this is true for you, there is help and there are things that can be done.

Thank you for choosing The Recovery Village.  If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health or substance abuse and would like to find out more about the programs we offer, please reach out to us directly at 855-387-3291.

Other Addiction & Mental Health Resources

The Recovery Village has several, free resources for those living with addiction or mental health conditions and their loved ones. From videos, to clinically-hosted webinars and recovery meetings, to helpful, medically-reviewed articles, there is something for everyone. If you need more direct help, please reach out to one of our representatives.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.