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How Quickly Do Drugs Become Addictive?

Drug addiction is a chronic disease of the brain that must be managed over a lifetime. However, developing an addiction is a much quicker process than treating one. Most people know that drugs and even other substances or activities can be addictive, but they may not know how addiction develops. Understanding how quickly drugs become addictive is key in the prevention of substance abuse.

Are All Drugs Addictive?

Any substance has the potential to cause addiction in an individual, but the potency of the drug has a huge impact on how quickly someone can develop an addiction. When comparing Ibuprofen with cocaine, for example, it’s obvious that developing an addiction to cocaine is much easier due to its highly euphoric effects.

Although unlikely for most drugs, it is possible to form a drug addiction after one use. Drugs like heroin can produce such a compelling high that people may begin to crave it after a single use.

How Easy Is It to Get Addicted?

Each individual is different. The amount and duration of drug use required to develop an addiction varies from person to person and is impacted by factors such as:

  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Traumatic experiences
  • Mental health disorders like anxiety or depression
  • Age at onset of drug use
  • Administration method

These factors align in different ways to affect the development of addiction. A teen with depression who injects an opioid, for instance, will likely become addicted more quickly than an emotionally resilient adult who only swallows tablets.

How Do People Get Addicted to Drugs?

Addiction has both a psychological and a physical component. The physical component of addiction is called tolerance. Tolerance is a state in which a person needs to take more and more of a drug to receive the same effects, and it can occur in people who do not go on to develop full addiction.

The psychological part of addiction occurs when a person starts feeling compelled to take the drug despite obvious negative consequences in body and mind. The addition of this component sets addiction apart from tolerance.

Why Do People Get Addicted to Drugs?

In most cases, the decision to use drugs for the first time is voluntary. Addiction, however, is not. So how does addiction start? Repeated drug use alters the way the brain perceives reward and motivation, making use of the drug a person’s first priority. Drug use feels better than natural rewards, locking people into a cycle of drug-seeking behavior.

People who become addicted are often trying to self-medicate underlying feelings of depression or anxiety. However, as drug addiction progresses, people continue using drugs just to stop themselves from the pain of going into withdrawal.

Recover From Addiction With Gateway

No one starts using drugs with the intent to become addicted, but it can happen more quickly than most people realize. If you are struggling with substance abuse and addiction, Gateway is here to support you. For more information about our addiction treatment services, call 877.379.8031.


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