Addictions Health Center
Table of Contents
Causes of addiction can vary based on the type of addiction. Listed below are the causes of various types of addiction.
People experiment with drugs for many different reasons. Many first try drugs out of curiosity, to have a good time, because friends are doing it, or in an effort to improve athletic performance or ease another problem, such as stress, anxiety, or depression. Use doesn’t automatically lead to abuse, and there is no specific level at which drug use moves from casual to problematic. It varies by individual. Drug abuse and addiction is less about the amount of substance consumed or the frequency, and more to do with the consequences of drug use. No matter how often or how little you’re consuming, if your drug use is causing problems in your life—at work, school, home, or in your relationships—you likely have a drug abuse or addiction problem.
Why do some drug users become addicted, while others don’t?
As with many other conditions and diseases, vulnerability to addiction differs from person to person. Your genes, mental health, family and social environment all play a role in addiction. Risk factors that increase your vulnerability include:
- Family history of addiction
- Abuse, neglect, or other traumatic experiences in childhood
- Mental disorders such as depression and anxiety
- Early use of drugs
- Method of administration—smoking or injecting a drug may increase its addictive potential
In humans, increasing evidence suggests that individuals with binge eating-related disorders, i.e., bulimia nervosa (BN), binge eating disorder (BED), and obesity, experience behavioral symptoms and neurochemical changes that are highly comparable to other addictive behaviors. In recent years, neuroendocrine pathways have been identified that are involved in both drug- and food-seeking behaviors. Specifically, appetite-regulating peptides like ghrelin, neuropeptide Y, orexin, or leptin have also been associated with craving for alcohol or tobacco.
It is sometimes asserted that obesity rates have increased because there is too much palatable food available. However, although palatability does increase intake in the short term, it is not clear that palatable food leads to overeating over the long term. Many parallels have been drawn between substance dependence and excessive consumption of such hyperpalatable foods. Animal models show that rats develop behavioral symptoms, but also show neurochemical changes, that are comparable to drug use when they have intermittent access to sugar and chow or receive a cafeteria-like diet.
Cigarettes and other forms of tobacco—including cigars, pipe tobacco, snuff, and chewing tobacco—contain the addictive drug nicotine. Nicotine is readily absorbed into the bloodstream when a tobacco product is chewed, inhaled, or smoked.
Upon entering the bloodstream, nicotine immediately stimulates the adrenal glands to release the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline). Epinephrine stimulates the central nervous system and increases blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate. Glucose is released into the blood while nicotine suppresses insulin output from the pancreas, which means that smokers have chronically elevated blood sugar levels.
Like cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, nicotine increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which affects the brain pathways that control reward and pleasure. For many tobacco users, long-term brain changes induced by continued nicotine exposure result in addiction—a condition of compulsive drug seeking and use, even in the face of negative consequences. Studies suggest that additional compounds in tobacco smoke, such as acetaldehyde, may enhance nicotine’s effects on the brain. A number of studies indicate that adolescents are especially vulnerable to these effects and may be more likely than adults to develop an addiction to tobacco
There is no single cause of sexual addiction. Multiple research studies indicate that up to 60% to 80% of people with sexual addiction were victims of child abuse. There is also frequent comorbidity with depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Many researchers believe that sexual addiction follows the same neural pathways as drug and alcohol abuse.
Compulsive Sexual Behavior typically begins in late adolescence or early adulthood and impacts men more so than women. There may actually be brain impairments in individuals who have a sexual addiction which makes it so that they cannot judge the danger and negative impact of their sexual behavior. Alternatively, individuals with sexual addiction may have such impaired impulse control they immediately gratify sexual cravings without regard to the consequences. Regardless of the reasons, sexual addicts may seek out stimulation by viewing pornography, engaging in cybersex, or having sex with others, often paid, sex-trade workers. This puts them at risk for a number of life-threatening illnesses (e.g., AIDS), legal problems, (e.g., purchasing child pornography), and financial ruin.
There is no known cause of alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Research suggests that certain genes may increase the risk of alcoholism, but which genes and how they work are not known. How much you drink can influence your chances of becoming dependent.
Those at risk for developing alcoholism include:
- Men who have 15 or more drinks a week
- Women who have 12 or more drinks a week
- Anyone who has five or more drinks per occasion at least once a week
- One drink is defined as a 12-ounce bottle of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or a 1 1/2-ounce shot of liquor.
- You have an increased risk for alcohol abuse and dependence if you have a parent with alcoholism.
You may also be more likely to abuse alcohol or become dependent if you:
- Are a young adult under peer pressure
- Have depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, or schizophrenia
- Have easy access to alcohol
- Have low self-esteem
- Have problems with relationships
- Live a stressful lifestyle
- Live in a culture alcohol use is more common and accepted
Alcohol abuse is rising. Around 1 out of 6 people in the United States have a drinking problem.