What Causes Addiction?

What Causes AddictionAddiction to drugs and alcohol is defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that changes the structure and functionality of the brain. Many people ask, “what causes addiction?” The answer is that there are number of factors that influence substance dependence and addictive behaviors. Studies have shown that emotional imbalance, chronic physical pain, mental illness or a desire to escape the distress caused by pain, stress, anxiety, anger or sadness are recognized as strong motivators that typically initiate substance use and lead to addiction.

When drugs and alcohol are consumed they influence how the brain operates and processes information. Studies show the three areas most affected by substance abuse include:

  1. The brain stem
  2. The cerebral cortex
  3. The limbic system

These three systems respectively control heart rate, breathing, and sleeping patterns. They are also responsible for delivering the necessary information to our brain so we can properly experience the five senses and feel pleasure.

Even for a short period of time, the effects of drug or alcohol use can cause temporary dependence.  In addition to the influence of drugs and alcohol on the brain, genetics and environmental causes have been attributed to drug use. Mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic-stress-disorders and other unresolved issues and co-occurring disorders are also recognized as primary causes of addiction.

How Many People Suffer From Addiction and How can it be Treated?

At least 23.5 million Americans suffer from some form of substance dependence, and an estimated 570,000 people die annually as a result of abusing drugs and alcohol.  As such, treatment that has been shown to be the most viable solution to addiction becomes crucial steps in saving lives.

Drug and alcohol rehabilitation is a comprehensive continuum of care that is designed to stop habituated drug use and enable sustainable sobriety.  Recovery occurs through a series of stages that include:

  • Detoxification
  • A variety of evidence-based behavioral therapies
  • Individual, family and group counseling
  • Mental health care
  • Pharmacological interventions
  • Relapse prevention education and training
  • Aftercare programs

Treatment for drug addiction is focused on reengaging brain functions deteriorated by drug abuse. This enables recovering addicts to change negative patterns of behavior and beliefs about addiction and themselves. And, when necessary, pharmacological interventions are administered to help reduce or control cravings and stabilize mental problems.

A wide range of treatment options are available for people who want to achieve full recovery and sustainable sobriety. The rehab process varies depending on each person’s individual needs. Inpatient or residential treatment programs can last anywhere from 21 days or more. Programs that last 90 days or longer are highly recommended for people with severe long term addiction and co-occurring conditions than necessitate dual diagnosis treatment.  Outpatient treatment programs are typically more suitable for individuals seeking help at the onset of addiction and have a favorable and supportive living environment.

The ultimate goal of any drug rehab experience is to help people suffering from addiction to identify the underlying causes of the disease and adopt new and healthier ways of coping to achieve lasting recovery.


Erica Loret de Mola


Erica Loret de Mola is a communications major who has been writing about addiction treatment for approximately three years. As content manager and editor in chief of Get Treatment, she strives to provide the most accurate and current information available to our clients.


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