How Addiction Develops

Addiction is a debilitating disease that corrupts nearly every aspect of your life. Although most associate addiction with harmful substances such as drugs and alcohol, dependency on behaviors can be just as devastatingly potent. It is important to understand how the addiction process develops, so you can recognize whether you may unknowingly be a part of this ticking timeline. If uninterrupted, this mental evolution will leave you completely dependent on the subject of your addiction. You will have re-centered your entire life around this substance or behavior, despite fully grasping the adverse consequences. What many don’t understand is that this isn’t an overnight transformation. Multiple stages develop over an extended span of time, eventually culminating in a devastating rock-bottom.


Before moving into a breakdown of the rabbit hole that is addiction, it is necessary to understand one of the main players in this process, dopamine. As a neurotransmitting chemical, the function of dopamine is to send reward signals to the brain. Due to its undebatable connection with the concept of reward, it is often associated with the feelings of happiness and pleasure. Some everyday activities that usher in large volumes of these signals include eating a satisfying meal, getting a high score on an exam, or engaging in sexual activity.
Drug use, alcohol abuse, or other potentially addictive behaviors funnel unnaturally massive quantities of dopamine signals to the brain. This creates an intense, unprecedented initial burst of pleasure during your first time experimenting with a potentially addictive substance or behavior. However, with repeated use, your brain chemistry begins to adapt to this dopamine surge, making this pleasure increasingly difficult to obtain. It is this pattern that makes the brain susceptible to the disease of addiction.
The abuse of this neurotransmitter essentially serves as the center of the monstrous cycle that is addiction. With a clear understanding of this integral player, it is now time to see how it plays into each stage of the addiction development process.

Just Trying it Out

Engaging in a potentially addictive act once just to try it is surprisingly common. Whether it be drugs, alcohol, or even potentially dangerous behaviors, these initial experiences often occur in adolescence. Teenagers may find themselves pressured by peers into experimenting with these substances for themselves, despite understanding the negative consequences. They may also be seeking escape from the dissatisfaction they have with life.
With their brains still in critical developmental stages, teenagers are at a much higher susceptibility to addiction than members of other age groups. This does not mean dependency is exclusively found in 13-19-year-olds; this disease plagues adults as well.
There is a key indicator that sets experimenting substance abusers apart from burgeoning addicts- the majority of substance abusers do not continue usage after their initial session. Beyond that, there are no absolute means of determining whether an experimenter will devolve into an addict. Some plausible signs are being a pre-teen or teenager, having pre-existing mental health issues, or having family members who suffer from addiction. If you couple “just trying it out” with those possible conduits, the potential for addiction increases.

Continued Use and Tolerance Building

While most individuals typically stop after the experimentation stage, some make the decision to continue engaging with addictive substances or behaviors. As your brain becomes more accustomed to such an abnormal surge of chemicals, it begins to interpret this flow as somewhat of a natural occurrence. This growing naturally leads to a weakening in pleasure potency known as tolerance building. Essentially, a once immensely pleasurable activity now only provides a fraction of the satisfaction it once did.
Regardless of the unbelievable nature of the intense initial pleasure, you still actively desire it. In response, you increase the frequency of your consumption or behavior patterns, unknowingly building up the strength of your tolerance.

Developing a Reliance

When your body grows accustomed to a repeated influx of chemicals over an extended amount of time, it will reshape its chemistry to develop a dependence on it. Instead of chasing that unobtainable initial “high,” your body now requires the substance or behavior just to maintain regularity.
If you try to distance yourself from this harmful pattern this late in the timeline, you will experience devastating withdrawal symptoms. Indications of withdrawal include, but aren’t limited to, vomiting, intense anxiety, seizures, restlessness, and tremors. Those are just a few of the many signs that your body will give off to signify its desperate need to satiate your dependence.
In order to avoid such immense mental and physical suffering, you will constantly engage in the behavior that set you on this downward spiral in the first place. You knowingly continue this pattern, regardless of its legality or negative consequences. This is a vicious cycle, as continued abuse intensifies your dependency. You are now deep within the depths of addiction.

Refocusing your Life

When trapped in the wheel of crippling addiction, your life begins to center the around the subject of your dependence. Nothing else matters to you but avoiding withdrawal by obtaining your next fix as quickly as possible. Not only has the search for that initial surge of pleasure become a fruitless effort, it’s no longer a priority to you. All you care about is maintaining your body’s perverted sense of regularity by evading withdrawal.
You are now willing to sacrifice everything you once cared about to support this new life focus. Your familial and romantic relationships, as well as your friendships, crumble as satiating your reliance becomes more important to you than the people you care about. You trade your career aspirations and life goals for the more immediate purpose of obtaining your next fix.
When you are this deep in the dark chasm of addiction, it may seem like there is no hope to be found. If you live in the Tampa, Florida, area, Riverside Recovery is there for you. Home to caring personnel and state of the art resources, Riverside Recovery has everything you need to help you conquer the disease of addiction and regain the positive lifestyle and ambitions that once drove you. For more information, feel free to call (800) 871-5440.