COVID-19 is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation.

Get the latest information from CDC ( | NIH Resources | NIDA Resources

Drugs & Health Blog

The Different Angles of Addiction

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
Sara Bellum

You may think you know what addiction is—lots of people have many different opinions about addiction and different ways of defining it. Here are some myths you may have heard:

  • Getting over addiction to drugs is a choice.
  • In order for treatment to work, the person has to hit “rock bottom.”
  • People have to choose to get treatment or it won’t be effective, such as when a judge sends a person to a treatment facility instead of jail.

The truth is that addiction is a complex brain disease that scientists are still figuring out. For instance, one person may use a drug once or many times and nothing bad happens, while others may overdose with the first use. Some people use drugs regularly and never become addicted, while others try drugs once or twice and do become addicted. There is no way of knowing in advance how a person may react to these dangerous substances. Whether or how quickly addiction takes hold in individuals depends on many factors, including:

  • Genes: Research shows that some people’s genes may leave them more susceptible to addiction than other people’s.
  • Environment: Kids who are exposed to drug use in their families or neighborhoods are at greater risk of engaging in drug abuse themselves.
  • Age at first use: The younger a person uses drugs, the more vulnerable he or she is to addiction in adulthood. Since the brain continues to develop well into a person’s twenties, using drugs in the teen years can set a person up for later drug problems.

What scientists know for sure is that many drugs “turn on” the brain’s reward circuit, which is part of the limbic system. The person then learns to associate the drug with pleasure and starts to crave it more and more, leading to compulsive drug use and often to addiction. In an addicted person, the brain changes in ways that cause compulsive drug seeking and use, despite negative consequences, so even if they want to quit, they can’t without treatment and support. That’s why addiction is considered a brain disease. Other activities in life also activate the brain’s reward circuit and can cause “driven” behaviors, such as compulsive overeating or video game playing. However, scientists are still trying to figure out why this happens in non-drug contexts—it may be connected to dopamine levels in the brain. Learn more about the science behind drug addiction by visiting

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


Addictions are so hard to throw not only because of what goes on in the brain - thinking that you should quit is a whole lot different than wanting to quit and actually making the steps is another story.

One of the worst things you need to overcome is withdrawal. It's what every addict is afraid of. But withdrawal can be handled as it says in the article, with drugs and treatment. It doens't have to be that hard.

Knowing what's ahead can really help you to get through it. Here's some extensive information on withdrawal symptoms with opiate addiction - [link removed, per guidelines]

I would live a hardcopy of son just died 14, days go

i dont like drugz ewwww!!! it really messes up ur life den ur screwed forever itz sad dat half of the united states of america use drugz :(

I think that drugz shud be illegal and wen ppl use drugz dey shud go to jail!!! :)

wait az a matter a fact yesss drugz shud be illegal indeed!

I do believe all the concepts you've introduced in your post. They are really convincing and will definitely work. Nonetheless, the posts are too short for starters. Could you please prolong them a bit from subsequent time? Thank you for the post. [commercial link removed, per guidelines]

i have found OVER 9000 websites about this and this one was the only website that actually explained addiction. i can now explain what addiction is without messing up. i now know that addiction affects your brain more when you are a kid. THANK YOU SARA BELLUM!!!!!!!!!

thats why you shouldnt ever start drugs. Most people get addicted to them and then when you want to stop you have to spend alot of money and alot of time to quit. you would have to spend alot of money and time because it is almost impossible to quit drugs without any help, so you would have to seek help from other people.

I think that some things are just peoples choices, most people hit rock bottem before they get help because they think it is normal not something bad. If they choose not to get over drugs like if the get sent to a treatment facility instead of jail it will not help because they do not want to change they want to continue to use drugs. Getting over drugs is a choice somewhat because if they choose not to they will not change.

Never knew that addiction could be passed down via genes. Drugs should defiantly be illegal because of all the problems they cause (ex. Violence in countries we recieve drugs from) They destroy your brain and I agree that addiction should be classified as a disease.

I definitely know about the genetic disposition toward addiction; my father was an alcoholic and alcoholism runs in the family, and childhood experiences with him made me swear to myself never to drink. Also swore to never use any addictive drug after losing my smoking grandmother to lung cancer. That has paid off, since I've noticed I tend to get addicted very easily to things not considered to be drugs, like M&Ms and Wintergreen-flavored Tic-Tacs. Tic-Tacs are the worst; no matter how hard I try to make a package of them last more than 1 day, I almost always fail. I would be no match for cigarettes or anything harder!

In fact, most sugary things I find myself unable to control my consumption of very easily, in spite of many attempts to cut or drastically reduce sugar from my diet. I'm fortunate to have a metabolism that keeps my weight at a steady 130 lbs, but I still risk diabetes. I don't wish addiction upon anyone!

Congrats on having the maturity to recognize these vulnerabilities in yourself. Stay healthy—and thanks for your comment.

I take nothing away from the informative nature of the article around the physiological aspects of addiction upon the brain and around the fact that there are people who have predisposition towards addictive behavior. I do, however, dispute the claims around the "myths". In stating that an addicts' choice to go into recovery is a myth does great disservice to the addict! It also does great disservice to organizations like the AA and NA, who have helped countless addicts worldwide to stay clean and sober. Understanding the impact of drugs upon the brain is one thing, but getting over the addiction comes down to one unalterable fact - the addict's desire to quit! Without that conviction and desire, the likely hood of the addict staying in recovery is so very limited. Do not downplay the strength of the human spirit to overcome such a cunning and obsessive disease.
Drugs are bad
Okay, drugs make me cry. :'(