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Can Anyone Become Addicted

Can anyone become addicted? This is a complex question that resists a straightforward answer. There are many factors affecting a person’s potential for addiction.

However, even people who do not appear to have a high potential for addiction can develop one. Likewise, if a person has a high potential for addiction, this certainly does not mean that they will necessarily become addicted. Based on the available research, it seems that anyone can become addicted to a substance or activity in certain circumstances. This article discusses the factors that influence an individual’s potential for addiction. It also also discusses what these factors tell us about addiction treatment.

Addiction is usually rooted in underlying mental health conditions. The factors that cause addiction and related mental health disorders are deeply interconnected. Treatment for addiction should acknowledge this by following a concurrent disorders treatment model.

Variable Factors

Various person-specific factors affect someone’s potential for addiction. These include their physical characteristics and the age they were when they first used a substance. People who begin using addictive substances at a younger age are more likely to develop an addiction.

Certain drugs, such as opiates, are considerably more physically addictive than others, such as marijuana. However, as addiction is also a psychological disorder, a person can become addicted to any substance or activity. A person’s psychological and physical characteristics will also affect their reactions to different substances. Someone might have a high potential for addiction to alcohol but not to marijuana, for example.


Despite these variables, the more a person uses a substance or engages in an activity, the more likely they are to develop an addiction to it. If someone uses a substance frequently, their tolerance will increase. This means that they will require more of the substance in order to achieve the desired effect. Increased use results in increased likelihood of addiction.

Nature of Use

It is not only the extent of a person’s use of a substance that dictates how likely they are to become addicted. The nature of their use is also highly influential. If a person consistently uses a substance such as alcohol or marijuana to relax or to cope with difficult feelings or situations, they are likely to form a dependence on these substances. They will find it difficult to cope with challenges without the use of substances. This creates a highly addictive pattern of use. A person in this situation must address the underlying psychological and emotional issues that led them to depend on substances in order to achieve lasting recovery.

Concurrent Disorders

In most cases, addiction is related to underlying mental health conditions. This is why addiction treatment should use a concurrent disorders model. One in every two Canadians will experience some form of mental disorder by the time they are forty years old.

There is a high correlation between mental health disorders and addiction: at least 20% of people with a mental illness have a co-occurring substance use problem. Similarly, people with substance use problems are up to three times more likely to have a mental health disorder.

These statistics demonstrate the prevalence of mental health disorders and addiction. This makes understanding the various factors that can contribute to these problems vitally important. We also use them to understand how these conditions should be treated.

Genetic Factors

An individual’s genetic makeup affects their potential for addiction. Genetic factors influence brain chemistry. Research has indicated that people who are naturally less responsive to ordinary stimuli are more likely to become addicted. These people are likely to seek out addictive substances which provide them with the kind of endorphin response that others experience naturally. As addictive behaviour can reduce the brain’s natural responses to ordinary stimuli over time, this creates a cycle in which a person will have to use substances in larger quantities and more frequently to achieve the desired effects.

Mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder can also be passed on genetically. As people coping with mental health disorders are more likely to become addicted, a genetically inherited mental disorder will make an individual more likely to develop an addiction.

Those raised in environments in which addictive substances are used regularly are also more likely to develop addictions themselves. This is due to several factors. These include the likelihood of early use, learned behaviour and genetic predisposition. Someone growing up in a home where others are addicted may also turn to addictive substances themselves in order to cope with the difficulties this causes. There is a significant connection between genetic and environmental factors.

Brain Chemistry

As discussed above, addictive behaviour alters the structure of the brain over time. Addictive substances or activities create surges of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin in the brain. These substances create feelings of elation and excitement. Over time, these reactions deplete the stores of these chemicals in the brain. They also reduce the number of functioning receptors for these neurotransmitters. This means that someone who has regularly engaged in addictive behaviour over a sustained period will experience reduced reactions to ordinary stimuli. They will also have reduced levels of certain neurotransmitters after the initial effects of the substance wear off.

This is one of the reasons people become trapped in addictive cycles: they continue to engage in addictive behaviour in order to experience the positive feelings they do not experience without this behaviour. They will require larger amounts of substances in order to achieve the desired effects and ultimately may require the substances in order to feel normal. We can repair the damage done to the brain by addictive behaviour with dedicated, evidence-based treatment and sustained sobriety. This means that the longer someone spends in recovery, the stronger their resistance to urges to use will become.


Research shows that environmental factors play a substantial role in influencing a person’s decisions over whether to use drugs. These might include influence from those around them such as family members or friends, general attitudes to drug use in their community, or whether they are employed, and if so, whether they are happy in their job. All of these factors will also affect a person’s potential for addiction. We cannot make conclusions based on these factors, however, as they function differently for different people.

Social isolation and the lack of a support network are also common contributors to addiction. People who do not have families or other social contacts often turn to substances to compensate for this lack of personal connection. People who have families or social groups that are dysfunctional or not supportive also often turn to substances. Families or social groups that encourage the use of substances can also contribute to a person becoming addicted.

A lack of opportunities or alternative stimuli are also highly influential factors in a person’s potential for addiction. This means that people from poor, isolated or dysfunctional communities are more likely to become addicted due to a perceived lack of personal and professional opportunities. Research shows that people from disadvantaged communities are more likely to become addicted if they do not believe that they can improve their circumstances.

Experimentation and Recreation

Many people also begin using substances recreationally or experimentally. While this may initially seem relatively harmless, a person can quickly develop a dependence on a substance they began using for these purposes. If someone’s social group encourages substance use or pressures them into using, this will also make it more difficult for them to limit their use.


Doctors often prescribe highly addictive substances to patients managing physical or psychological injuries. Many commonly prescribed medications are highly addictive opiates, such as Oxycontin. The prevalence of prescriptions for these substances has caused the ongoing North American opioid crisis. It is important to be aware of the addictive nature of these substances if you are prescribed them. Many opioid medications are as addictive as heroin, which is also an opiate. Patients often take pain management medications over sustained periods of time. The longer someone uses these substances, the more likely they are to develop an addiction. A person can easily become addicted to prescribed medication even when taking it exactly as prescribed. While some people may be more predisposed to opioid addiction, anyone can easily develop this condition.


The variety and complexity of the reasons a person may become addicted demonstrates the importance of a holistic, client-centred approach to addiction treatment rather than a standardized approach. The most effective treatment focuses on the causes underlying an individual’s mental health and addiction problems. Trafalgar provides evidence-based treatment which is adaptable to the needs of the individual, treating the whole person and not just their addiction.

Evidence-based treatment methods such as individual therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing therapy have all proven effective in treating addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. These methods allow clients to identify and address the underlying causes of their problems. They allow clients to develop healthy coping mechanisms instead of self-medication and to restore order to their lives.

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

We offer residential and outpatient rehab treatment programs for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.

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