Why Do Some People Become Addicted While Others Do Not?

Highest Standards, Nationally Recognized:

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Some people can use drugs recreationally without ever becoming an abuser or addict. Conversely, others quickly become an abuser, which leads to addiction. Substance use starts to impact their work and social lives not long after trying the substance for the first time.

Most people are unaware why some people become addicted to drugs. Some mistakenly believe addicts simply lack willpower or moral fortitude to end their addiction. In actuality, addiction is a disease that requires much more than a strong will and positive intentions to shake.

What Exactly is Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction is a chronic and relapsing brain disease, meaning that the addict may continue drug use even though they’re aware of the negative consequences of doing so. Many people confuse the fact that initially taking drugs is voluntary with believing that continued use is voluntary.

In actuality, the chemical construct of the brain is altered through continued usage and the addict’s ability to control themselves is greatly hampered.

Ways to Get Help for Drug Addiction

The good news is that there are multiple effective treatments available for those seeking help. Combining various medications, which depend on the addicted substance, with behavioral therapy will create a successful program for most individuals. Most treatments available at rehab facilities or through outpatient facilities will create a tailored program for each person. This tailored approach takes into account usage patterns as well as possible co-occurring disorders.

It’s important to note that since addiction is a chronic disease, relapse is not indicative of failure. Instead, it signals that treatment needs to be adjusted or reinstated to help the former-addict regain control.

Three Important Factors in Determining Addiction

Now that it’s understood that addiction is a brain disease, how come some people develop this disease while others can recreationally use drugs without a problem developing? The answer comes down to three important factors that together determine susceptibility to addiction:


Those who begin taking drugs at an earlier age are more prone to develop an addiction. This is because their brains are still developing. Areas of the brain that impact judgment, decision making and self-control are still growing. Lacking full growth in these areas can lead to excessive use due to increased risk-taking behaviors.


Approximately half of vulnerability to addiction is purely genetic. That means the vulnerability is inherited from your parents and grandparents. Other factors, such as ethnicity, gender and the possibility of other mental disorders can also increase the risk of drug addiction.


The environment a person lives and grows up in can greatly influence their susceptibility to addiction. The environment is comprised of friends, family, quality of life and socioeconomic status.

Additionally, factors such as stress, quality of parenting, abuse and peer pressure can also influence the possibility of drug use in a person’s life, which also contributes to the possibility of use leading to abuse and then on to addiction.

Preventing Addiction by Stopping Abuse

Each of these factors play an important role in a person’s possible drug addiction. Drug abuse can begin on the very first use if someone is highly at risk based on these factors. Additional variables, such as the drug fulfilling a need or fill a void, can also make drug addiction a quick reality.

Once a user starts to rely on the substance to feel complete, or feel social, the path to addiction has already been paved. One of the earliest signs of addiction is when the user starts to miss work, show up to work impaired or other areas of their life deteriorate. Preventing drug use from reaching these levels is the ideal way to avoid addiction.


  1. DrugFacts: Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction, National Institute on Drug Abuse, November 2012, http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction
  2. Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith, M.A., and Joanna Saisan, M.S.W.,Drug Abuse and Addiction:
    Signs, Symptoms, and Help for Drug Problems and Substance Abuse, April 2015, http://www.helpguide.org/articles/addiction/drug-abuse-and-addiction.htm

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