When Does Addiction Start

People often talk about the effects of addiction and how it has the capability to destroy someone’s life, and how vital it is to get treatment as a result. But there is not as much discussion about the the origins of addition. Drug abuse is a powerful, life-altering condition that compels a person to use drugs habitually, to the point where that person cannot function without them and disregards his safety and well-being. Addiction is the ultimate substance use disorder and understanding how an addiction can start and the mechanisms behind it can be helpful in gaining a better picture of how the illness of addiction works.

How Addiction Starts

Drugs are so insidious because they trigger the brain’s pleasure receptors through the release of large quantities of dopamine. This neurotransmitter tells the brain when something feels good and this chemical is naturally produced and regulated by the body. When drugs introduce an overwhelming amount of dopamine, that creates an ecstatic high and in response the body ramps down its own production of dopamine. Your brain starts to make the association between taking the drug and the feeling of intense pleasure.

Compounding the problem is what happens when the drug wears off. Once the substance has left the body, the dopamine and its high are gone, too. This results in a crash that can be debilitating mentally and physically. If someone is feeling down and worn out after coming off a high, and the body starts to crave that feeling again, the person can be more susceptible to drug abuse. As the person continues to use a particular substance, they run the risk of developing a tolerance for it, which means they need to take more of the drug to try and replicate that pleasurable high. Soon, they may not be able to function without it.

The Pathway That Leads to Addiction

Addiction doesn’t start immediately after someone uses drugs for the first time. Substance use disorder is considered a spectrum, and addiction is at the end of that spectrum. There are many factors involved in whether someone will be more susceptible to addiction, including genetics, family environment, peer groups and drug exposure during adolescence, among others.  

Generally, substance use disorder can be defined as mild, moderate or severe. According to the fifth edition of “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5),” there are symptom criteria that determine what stage of substance use disorder a person falls in. As a person exhibits more of these symptoms, their substance use progresses along the spectrum. So a person that shows only a couple of the signs could have a relatively mild form of the disorder, while someone with about five of the given traits could be considered in the moderate stage. Once the total number of criteria reach six or above, that person’s condition has worsened and they would be considered in the severe stage of substance use disorder. The criteria include:

  • Unintentionally taking a drug in larger quantities for longer than expected.
  • An inability to stop taking the drug.
  • Users report a strong craving for the drug.
  • The drug becomes the focus of a person’s waking hours, whether it is using the substance, trying to get it or coming down from a high.
  • Life responsibilities and activities are neglected or abandoned.
  • Drug abuse causes friction and ruptures in relationships with friends, family, co-workers or other acquaintances.
  • Drug use continues even in the face of physical danger. Even if the person knows his substance abuse is a problem, he can’t quit.
  • A person has reached a stage of tolerance with his drug use.
  • Substance use has reached the point where someone experiences withdrawal symptoms when they aren’t using, or continue to use to prevent those symptoms from occurring.

When someone is exhibiting a majority of these symptoms, they are in the severe part of the spectrum where addiction lies. With heavy drug abuse, the brain can start to change, and it’s no longer a matter of simply quitting cold turkey. All kinds of cognitive functions can be impaired with addiction, including the ability to make decisions, handle stress or remember things. Addiction is a chronic illness without a “cure,” but it can be treatable and manageable so a person can live a satisfying and productive life.

That is why it is crucial to get treatment for addiction at a facility with expertise and experience in the matter. Casa Palmera is renowned for its skilled and compassionate care for clients struggling with addiction to all types of substances. Every client receives an individualized treatment plan that focuses on caring for the whole person, taking place in our healing and serene residential facility. Addiction isn’t a choice but getting help is, contact Casa Palmera today to start your journey.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.