Social Question

mazingerz88's avatar

Why do people get addicted to alcohol, smoking and drugs while others not-?

Asked by mazingerz88 (25895points) March 24th, 2011

Is the answer ultimately because people have different experiences in life-? It seems to me that there could be addicts out there who did not have any strong and forced reason to get addicted and yet they did.

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45 Answers

bolwerk's avatar

Different drugs have different addictive qualities. Some, like pot smoking, are probably only habitual. Others, like coffee, involve annoying physical withdrawals. Still others, like alcohol or (way, way, way worse) crystal meth, can cause brutal and dangerous physical dependencies. Some people have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism and probably other drugs. This is common in North American aboriginal communities.

There is also the personality dimension. Some people are prone to sensation-seeking. Some have supposedly “addictive” personalities. Whether these people are more prone to physical addiction or less prone to doing anything about it, I don’t know. (I actually rate high in that area myself, according to a recent psych test I took.)

Amusingly, cigarette smoking is not an especially strong physical addiction. It’s almost all habitual. For that reason,cognitive-behavioral therapy has a pretty good track record of getting people to quit smoking.

And keep in mind, how the government responds to a given drug is a pretty poor indication of how dangerous it is. Pot probably isn’t very dangerous at all. Alcohol is dangerous if abused, particularly for those who drive afterwards or have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism – yet, there’s a lot of evidence that it’s healthy if not abused. Cigarettes are pretty under-regulated, and are about guaranteed to shorten your life substantially if you don’t quit.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I have wondered the same thing. I have an “addict” personality and I know it. There are many examples of alcoholics and drug use in my family’s history. I started out an avid thumb-sucker. I stayed away from drugs and cigarettes in high school, but as a young adult I went overseas where everyone smoked, so I took up smoking. What a battle to quit – I finally succeeded with an e-cigarette. But yet I drink very seldomly and don’t crave alcohol at all. I know myself well enough to have never tried drugs at all. My adult son smokes once in a while, but he can take it or leave it, and usually leaves it. He doesn’t get addicted, which is weird.

john65pennington's avatar

It’s called OCD. Obsessive, Compulsive, Disorder.

In most people, it is a gene they have inherited from a past family member. These genes are so strong, that it can make a person an alocholic, a drug user, or a gambler. Actually, an OCD person can be addicted to just about anything, even drinking too much water.

A neighbor friend of mine use to wear gloves 24/7 on her hands. She was a germ freak. She washed money and would throw out frozen steaks that she had purchased just seven days before.

Some people cannot help themselves, that are OCD.

janbb's avatar

@john65pennington OCD is an entirely different thing than addiction.

I think it has a great deal to do with body chemistry and genetics as well as life experiences. I was a smoker for many years but was always able to quit when I wanted to; similarly, I can drink or not drink. With other people, their physiology is such that the alcohol or nicotine becomes a physical necessity if they indulge. That’s why the disease model is helpful in treatment as well as psychological therapy.

Dutchess_III's avatar

If you do anything often enough you can become addicted to it. The question, imo, is really, why do some people continue to do something until they become addicted and some people don’t?

AllAboutWaiting's avatar

I think it completely depends on frequency of use. But once you flick the switch, you start to need the drug to avoid withdrawl. The withdrawl can last for months with some substances, and some people never feel “well” again. The withdrawl symptoms of these substances are generally the same between people, so I think it’s just a feature of the substance and not really a genetic connection. However, some people seek certain risky behaviours, so that may play a role. If you like it, then you’ll justify its use.

zenvelo's avatar

@Dutchess_III While I agree that people can become psychologically dependent on something if they do it enough, others, like me, can become almost immediately physically and psychologically dependent. My drinking escalated as quickly as I could get alcohol from the time I was 12. By the age of 17 I was drinking at least 3 times each week, and in college it was daily.

@bolwerk I disagree with your statement on cigarette addiction. Nicotine withdrawal is extremely painful, I never want to go through it again. But that addiction also has intense physical cravings months after the withdrawal has passed.

Russell_D_SpacePoet's avatar

You know, I really wish I had an answer to this. I have a daughter who is an alcoholic. I have tried to get her help, but unless the person wants change, there isn’t much you can do. Her sister, they are less than a year apart, has no problems with substances. They were both raised the same way. Together. So who knows about the parameters behind addiction. Science knows some things, but they can’t explain why one would be addicted and one not.

bolwerk's avatar

@zenvelo: I’ve never heard of anyone having literally physically “extremely painful” nicotine withdrawals (in years of working in substance abuse therapy). The physical pangs are generally a mild nuisance, at worst. The cravings are pretty much all mental, and the anxiety of quitting is mental. That’s the strange part; you think it’s physical, but it’s more like hunger than real pain. Withdrawing, as an addict, from heroine or alcohol is real pain, often accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

@Russell_D_SpacePoet: is she an alcoholic, or just drinking too much alcohol? There’s a possibility it’s just a phase.

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zenvelo's avatar

@bolwerk My withdrawal from alcohol was like a bad hangover that lasted for a day and half. My withdrawal from nicotine was 72 hours of painful cramps in all my long muscles: my arms, my legs, and my intestines.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@zenvelo Wow. Well, I had no physical aches during my withdrawal from nicotine. Cranky as hell, but that’s about it.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

Nicotine craving is very intense, kind of like being hungry, but for a smoke! Anyone who has tried to diet can tell you how hard it is not to eat when you are hungry. Someone with a full belly wouldn’t understand. Not only is nicotine the problem, but smoking is a “nervous” habit – the act of kicking back, pulling out a smoke, lighting it and sucking on it is just as important as the nicotine itself. That is why e-cigs work so well – you don’t have to give up the nicotine or the habit. I quit overnight after 18 years of smoking. But, the downside, I still am getting the nicotine and feeding the habit. But at least I am healthy now and don’t stink!

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Skaggfacemutt I’ve been wondering that…do e-cig really work?

bolwerk's avatar

@zenvelo: I can believe it, but I suspect it was psychosomatic.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

They worked for me, even though I started out with a cheap POS. I have tried a few more brands, and some are decidedly better than others. I could have never quit without them. I have been trying to quit on my own since 1995 or so. My year annversary was on March 1st – yay!

mazingerz88's avatar

@Russell_D_SpacePoet I could emphatize in a way. I have a brother who started with pot in his teens, moved to meth most of his 20’s and been in rehab for years now, he is 33.
I do have clear reasons as to what caused his tragedy. I will not elaborate but our parents in order to support their kids went abroad and did not get loving enough proxies to nurture him when he was 12. That was the start. But my sister did not end up like him so there is that conundrum again. Now I’m supporting his two kids and it’s tough.

mattbrowne's avatar

Some dopamine receptor genes have been implicated to play a certain role

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

Thanks, @Dutchess_III . One of the reasons I couldn’t quit before is because I enjoyed it so much. Couldn’t believe that I could quit without having to give up the enjoyment. What a deal!

SquirrelEStuff's avatar

I believe dopamine plays a huge role as well.

Things That Enhance Dopamine Production
Inadvisable Ways to Raise Dopamine Levels

There are means by which dopamine can be raised that are definitely not recommended. Studies have demonstrated that people suffering from obesity possess fewer dopamine receptors than normal. Consequently, it’s not uncommon for obese people to eat more in an effort to stimulate the “pleasure circuits” in their brain, producing more dopamine. This is somewhat similar to the practice of drug addicts using drugs to supplement dopamine in their brains. Drug addicts also possess fewer dopamine receptors. Thus, these people are caught in a vicious cycle of engaging in unhealthy behavior to create something that could be more effectively found through proper diet and exercise.

Read more:

zenvelo's avatar

@bolwerk My symptoms were not psychosomatic, but are well known .

Nicotine is know to be as addictive as heroin; it affects the dopamine receptors.

bolwerk's avatar

@zenvelo: there is nothing in that quitting link about intensity, or even to suggest the symptoms aren’t psychosomatic. I just searched for refereed literature and found nothing backing that site off hand. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Nicotine Withdrawal Scale doesn’t even seem to look at most of them. If those types of symptoms happen in intensities that are “extremely painful” at all, it sounds like a very small number of smokers deal with them indeed.

Yes, nicotine has amazing effects on the brain. Its effects on the body, however, are pretty mild compared to most other drugs.

Russell_D_SpacePoet's avatar

@bolwerk No it is not a phase. It has been going on for years. Drink to passing out almost every night. Wrecked 6 or 7 different cars. 2 dwi’s. She is on probation now for the second dwi. One screw up and she is gone for a year minimum. which in the long run if that happens, it may be in her best interest.

bolwerk's avatar

@Russell_D_SpacePoet: damn, sorry to hear. I went through a period of maybe 2–3 years where I was drinking a lot. I still drink, but looking back on it, I’m amazed that I drank as much as I did. That’s why I was asking.

Russell_D_SpacePoet's avatar

@bolwerk Thanks. When I was younger I went through a phase of drinking also. just lucky I didn’t end up in jail or dead. Grew out of it though.

Russell_D_SpacePoet's avatar

@mazingerz88 That is a shame. it sounds like to me he may have an addictive personality. I feel for you and him. I honestly don’t have a problem with pot. I think alcohol is one of the biggest threats to young people. Some people can be addicted to almost anything though. I was addicted to nicotine. Smoked for over 20 years and quit with a generic brand of nicotine patch. Been free of tobacco for 5 years or so.

bolwerk's avatar

@Russell_D_SpacePoet: I tend to think alcohol is less the problem than being unable to socialize with alcohol properly. Throwing kids out of the house in their late teens and early 20s without even teaching them to drink is bad news, but doing the responsible thing and exploring alcohol with your kid is practically illegal in the USA. Even when I was drinking a lot, I was never driving or anything, so I wasn’t really in especially great danger – but then, most people are car-dependent. Car-dependent + alcohol dependent = bad news. I actually calmed my drinking a lot after I quit smoking (using a cognitive-behavioral technique).

I don’t know if this helps where you are, but some diversion programs do wonders, without the attendant stigma and waste of doing hard time.

Zaku's avatar

My parents supported me in positive ways, treated me with great love and respect, discussed smart thinking with me a lot, didn’t make any kind of issue out of drugs or alcohol, and only acted as authorities when they needed to. They didn’t act like righteous or apathetic or punitive ass wipes the way so many other parents I saw, did.

So I felt little need to act out or numb myself or be delinquent. I did have some delinquent friends, the worst of which had absent incompetent parents, and so I did some mean things before I was 11, and when my parents divorced, I was unhappy and I was also a bit anarchistic and got in some trouble in 5th grade by throwing rocks and running through the middle school refusing to come when teachers tried to stop me. I was threatened with not being allowed to go to middle school if I did any more gross misbehavior. So I didn’t.

I remember some kids laughing about sniffing glue in first or second grade. I thought that looked really stupid and dangerous and I didn’t even get why they thought it was funny except that whoever did it would have to be really ridiculously stupid.

Then in middle school and high school, I listened to the information about what drugs and alcohol and cigarettes and STDs do, and thought, “wow, I don’t want to do those things to my mind and body!” And I didn’t. Sometimes my parents offered to let me try alcohol. I tried a sip and wasn’t really interested. When they got a little drunk on occasion, it didn’t look like a very good trip to me. I wasn’t interested. I heard about my grandfather being alcoholic and smoking too much. He was the first of my grandparents to die. No thanks!

Cigarettes always smelled disgusting, and I saw tar-coated lungs, so I never smoked anything, and avoided being around people who were.

In high school, the kids doing cigarettes and drinking parties looked stupid to me, and like part of peer pressure stupidity that I didn’t want to be a part of. So I didn’t. It looked like some people needed to be drunk in order to be outgoing and loud, or to say anything entertaining, or to avoid being bored. I didn’t need that. I had a good imagination and could make jokes and have fun without needing to stone my brain. And the drug users I knew tended to hang around and have conversations that were 80%, “Hey, imagine doing/seeing X, Y, or Z… on drugs.” “Hey yeah, hehehehehehehehehehehe,,, heheh. Hey, imagine watching B on drugs. Huhuhuhuhuh. Huh.” “Yeah.” Gee. I think I’ll leave now, and go do something interesting, with an awake brain. Bye…

I do enjoy good wine and some liquor or mixed drinks. Sometimes I’ve drunk too much for fun. But it’s not something I like to do a lot. People who do do it a lot seem mostly sad and foolish to me. Especially if they go into a bar and pay way too much for drinks and/or cover charges in places that are generally too loud to hear each other talk, and act like it’s really fun and interesting to interact with people that way. I guess it’s good if you want to seduce strangers. I still don’t quite get why some of my friends want to go to bars with each other.

mazingerz88's avatar

@Russell_D_SpacePoet Sorry to hear about the seriousness of your daughters situation. I also say sometimes my brothers better in rehab since it’s either he’ll be killed because of drugs or he himself will be killed if he’s not there. The worst is when our parents run out of money to finance his rehab needs. My mom out of extreme desperation one time wondered if she should just have him killed. Of course she was not serious since she is the kind of parent who would starve first before her kid. I’m worried about when he has to leave rehab. Another question I can’t seem to answer is why some people who are addicted to alcohol have a strong tolerance for the hurt alcohol inflicts on the body. Being tipsy has its pleasurable effect but being too drunk all the time maybe numbing but is not exactly pleasurable to one’s system or is it-?

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Speaking as a recovered alcoholic with nearly 12 years of sobriety, I can tell you the one thing that I’m certain about: I don’t know why I become addicted to alcohol. I know why I drank. It was to numb the pain of life.

I would have to say that it somehow comes down to the way the brain works. Mine evidently works in a different way than others.

bolwerk's avatar

@hawaii_jake: That’s a good point. I have a kind of sneaking suspicion that one-size-fits-all approaches to alcohol treatment aren’t good, and that different people need different outcomes. Is somebody who drank two six packs a day a clinical failure now that he only drinks one Bud a day? Or only drinks a single six pack on Friday?

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@bolwerk : Are you asking me? I sit in judgement of no one. All I know is what works for me: total abstinence and a 12-step program.

bolwerk's avatar

@hawaii_jake: it’s a rhetorical question.

WillWorkForChocolate's avatar

I don’t know, but I’m having a harder time kicking cigarettes than I’ve had with any other addictions in my life. Only half of me wants to quit, and I think that’s the problem.

everephebe's avatar

I personally don’t believe in addiction at least my own. But I’m really not an addictive personality. It’s a choice, always, no matter if you are chemically addicted or not. Withdrawal is indeed a bitch, but you are either weak or strong. But what do I know I’ve only had withdrawal from four+ substances, multiple times, including the one at the top.

mazingerz88's avatar

@WillWorkForChocolate hey good luck on that half of you who wants to quit. I had a friend who smoked a pack a day, with coffee on the side while working as an animator for years and years. Lost the friendship and believes his addiction played a big part on why.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Generally speaking, substances which directly intereact with brain chemistry are far more addictive, especially when coupled with a genetic propensity to be more prone to addiction.

Ladymia69's avatar

@john65pennington Stick to being a cop, because you’re not a good psychiatrist.

This is an interesting question, because I am reading Dr. Andrew Weil’s book “From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs”. It’s a fantastically interesting book which has answered a lot of questions for me, and I recommend you check it out.

The fact is, the human brain houses receptors for a huge amount of the drugs we take (opiates, cannabinoids, and even benzodiazepenes), and even contains some drugs (like DMT). Some of us have more receptors than others. Some of us have behavioral patterns that perpetuate the need of a stimulant or depressant to deal with a certain situation or thought. And some of us just may have had several ancestors who fought battles with addictions to chemicals.. The demographic of who gets addicted and who does not is a very intricate puzzle based on many factors.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I think I just have a sucking fettish. I went from sucking my thumb to sucking on cigarettes! (Now, keep your comments clean on this one, guys!)

CaptainHarley's avatar

CaptainHarley refuses to comment! : P

CaptainHarley's avatar


Um… I thought that’s what I said earlier, but perhaps not.

Ladymia69's avatar

@CaptainHarley Didn’t read your post.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Wisdom to stay away from it in the 1st place.

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