What Is Drug Addiction?

Addiction is a chronic disease that affects the reward structure of the brain. It is caused by neurochemical reactions that are prompted by the introduction of certain substances and behaviors. Addiction impairs a person’s judgment, physiological independence, and emotional well-being. Overcoming addiction requires therapeutic intervention and ongoing support from an addiction specialist.

Addiction develops when a person becomes physically, psychologically and emotionally dependent, most often to drugs or alcohol. It is defined by a collection of unique characteristics:


  • A chronic inability to abstain from substances/behaviors
  • Behavioral impairment or loss of control
  • Cravings for a substance or behavior
  • Use of a substance/behavior despite negative consequences
  • Dysfunctional emotional response to removal of substances

Alcohol or drug addiction can affect almost every aspect of an individual’s life, including their relationships, their finances, and their professional endeavors. Many people who struggle with addiction experience memory impairment and physical health problems, including chronic disease and disability.


What causes addiction is not the same for those who struggle with it. Addiction can be genetic, meaning it can be inherited through family generations, such as alcoholism.  Addiction can also be caused by other factors such as trauma, peer pressure, stress relief, depression, or by trying a substance once and liking the effects the substance produces enough to keep using it (marijuana).

Addiction often implies some sort of lack of morality. When people think of addiction, they think of people who are addicted to alcohol, heroin, cocaine or meth. However, not all addicted people are addicted to illicit substances. There is a growing number of people who are addicted to prescription drugs, gambling, and sex.

The causes of any type of addiction vary for each person affected. When someone becomes addicted to a substance, they crave it when they do not have it. The cause and effect of addiction is a continuous loop of “got to have it, have it, need more of it.” The more of the substance they take, the more tolerant their brain and body become of it, and the more they crave it.

Addiction may refer to psychological dependencies, such as those to gambling, sex, and work. The most commonly addressed causes of drug addiction is substance abuse.


  • Alcohol
  • Methamphetamines
  • Opioids/ Prescription pain medication
  • Stimulants
  • Tobacco

Habits are occasionally mistaken for addiction, but there is a key difference. While often second-nature, habits are self-controlled and done by choice. Breaking a habit takes time, but is not associated with the same psychological and neurological changes as addiction.

Causes Of Drug Addiction Can Be Due To Certain Lifestyle Factors Including:

  • High Stress Levels
  • Having a parent with a history of addiction
  • Severe Trauma or Injury
  • Exposure to substance abuse at a young age
  • Mental health conditions
  • Psychological trauma

There are a lot of different factors that can be the causes of drug addiction. The above items are what people possess when they seek addiction treatment in most cases, but not all.


A substance use disorder becomes an addiction when someone cannot control or struggles to control their substance use or abuse. An addiction is diagnosed when they seek and use the substance compulsively despite the health and life consequences that occur.

Fortunately, there’s help for people who struggle with a severe addiction to a substance or activity. Serenity at Summit offers addiction treatment programs that can safely guide you, or a loved one, back to a stable, healthy life. What causes addiction will be addressed, and a new plan will be laid out that leads to successful, long-term recovery.


Drug and alcohol addiction impact behaviors and can physically alter areas of the brain that are associated with reward, memory and motivation. Repeated use of these substances increases your risk of becoming addicted.


  • Nucleus Accumbens
  • Anterior Cingulate Cortex
  • Basal Forebrain
  • Amygdala

Drug and alcohol addiction also physically affects the brain by interfering with the interaction of brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, especially between the memory and reward areas of the brain.

Due to the physiological nature of drug addiction, overcoming addiction takes time and ongoing effort. Ceasing use of an addictive substance will often lead to withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, vomiting and headaches. Detoxification and addiction therapy programs are structured to control and reduce these symptoms while increasing your chances of recovery.

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