About Drug Addiction - Drug Addiction

Before you can treat an addiction it is important to understand what an addiction is and the various factors which lead to the addiction. This includes looking at various triggers for an addiction and why some people appear to be more susceptible than others.

It is hard to stop an addiction in spite of what others may think. If you have never been dependent on a substance or are able to take or leave something then it can be difficult to understand why people become addicted, and why they are unable to give it up.

Is it just a case of a lack of will-power or self-discipline or a combination of factors?

Nature v nurture?

This section contains background information on drug addiction: it talks about what an addiction is and how it might start. It also looks at whether there is a genetic tendency for addiction or whether certain people have personality traits which make them more vulnerable to addiction.

It may develop as a result of external factors such as a chaotic home life or peer pressure. Peer pressure is more of an issue for young people than adults. 

‘Legal’ drugs

This section also includes being able to detect the signs of an addiction and if you do, what to do about it. It is not a clear cut issue as there is a thin dividing line between social use and dependency, or ‘legal’ and non-legal drugs.

One such example is alcohol: many of us enjoy a glass of wine or two and would consider this to be a nice way of winding down after a hard day at work.

A moderate alcohol intake is unlikely to cause any harm and in fact research has shown numerous health benefits from drinking alcohol. But the watchword here is ‘moderation’. The old saying ‘a little bit of what you fancy does you good’ is fine as long as it doesn’t become excessive.

It is when something changes from occasional use to excessive use that problems arise. What happens when that glass or two of wine becomes a bottle of wine every night?

This is fine when applied to alcohol and caffeine as these are viewed as socially acceptable drugs. But what about a substance such as tobacco that was originally promoted as acceptable even desirable (e.g. movie stars) and yet has proven to be the cause of serious and life threatening conditions such as heart disease and cancer.

The risks of tobacco use were once unknown but have come to light over recent years. This has had a social and cultural impact upon society to the effect that what was once seen as a symbol of sophistication and maturity has become socially unacceptable.      In many ways alcohol and cigarettes cause more damage than ‘hard drugs’ such as heroin or cocaine and yet more action is taken to crack down on the possession and use of these drugs than alcohol and tobacco. So where does a drug cross the line from socially acceptable to dangerous and/or illegal?

Is all drug use harmful?

Alcohol and caffeine in moderate amounts are fine but this appears to not be the case with other drugs such as cannabis or ecstasy. Yet there are people who use drugs such as these on a ‘recreational’ basis and claim to have no ill-effects from them.

Is this due to good luck or are these people storing up problems in the long term? The same applies to tobacco: we all know of people who have smoked all of their lives and yet without any ill-effect. Is this a case of good luck, genetics or over-exaggerated problems with smoking?

However the dangers of smoking have been well documented and cannot be ignored. Smoking can cause a range of health problems which can lead to a shorter life span. These are discussed in greater detail in the smoking subsection within our types of addictions section.  

‘Legal high’ substances     

There are also drugs which were designed with a legitimate and socially useful purpose in mind such as ketamine which was developed for veterinary purposes only but is sold illegally on the streets and in nightclubs.

And then we have drugs which cause ‘legal highs’: these are chemical based and are available on their own or as an addition to herbal cigarettes/tobacco.

These substances may appear to be safe because they are legally available but this isn’t the case. Many of them contain a mixture of chemicals which can have an adverse effect on your body and so it is wise to give them a miss.

Other addictive drugs

What about substances which appear to be a ‘double-edged’ sword? These can be used to help people recover from an illness (prescription drugs), deal with chronic pain (painkillers) or to treat a medical condition such as delayed puberty (anabolic steroids). We do know that it is possible to become addicted to these substances or in the case of steroids - which increase muscle mass, to gain a competitive advantage. 

These substances were designed to improve physical and/or mental health but ironically, end up causing more problems than what they were originally intended for.

These types of drugs are discussed further in our types of addictions section.


For many people an addiction is also a form of escapism. If you feel that events in your life are beyond your control, suffer from low self-esteem or are unhappy with your home life then drugs, alcohol or smoking are all ways of temporarily escaping these. For a period of time you are free from your worries and able to experience things in such a way that you might not have thought possible.  

If you find social situations difficult then having a few drinks can boost your confidence and enable you to join in with others. Alcohol can ensure instant popularity or a sense of being the ‘life and soul of the party’ - hence its attraction.

Similarly, cigarettes as well as alcohol can give a temporary sense of relaxation and freedom from day to day concerns. We often read about people trapped in poverty and deprivation who spend what little money they have on smoking and alcohol: many people condemn this but it is easy to do so from a position of comfort and stability.

If you have never known a stable family life or are struggling financially on a daily basis then a few minutes or hours enjoyment, courtesy of a drink or smoke can help you to cope. If you feel that you are stuck in a never ending cycle of poverty and see no way out then cigarettes, alcohol or drugs are a form of escape.

It is easy to take the high moral ground but sometimes we need to try and put ourselves in their shoes and think about what their lives might be like. Drug addiction, whether that is smoking or alcohol consumption may be the only enjoyable things in their lives.

In this sense can you blame them? Who is to say that anyone of us wouldn’t do the same?

Drug addiction isn’t just confined to people at the lower end of the spectrum. High earners can also be affected.

If you have a well paid but stressful job or are trying to juggle family life with work then the temptation is there to have a drink or take drugs, e.g. cocaine. This may be seen as a coping mechanism but it is a dangerous one nevertheless. What might start out as a pleasant diversion can soon lead into a dependency.

Can we eradicate drug addiction?

What we do know however is that drug addiction is one of many problems affecting our society which is difficult to treat. Drug addiction has been going on since time began and as it is a consequence of human behaviour, is likely to be with us for the foreseeable future.

This may sound rather pessimistic but people are drawn towards substances which make them feel good hence the development of an addiction. The reason for this and the outcome is discussed in a series of individual sections which are as follows:

Visit these to learn more about the causes and effects of drug addiction. Reading about these may make it easier for you to understand the problem of addiction and how it may be dealt with.


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