man experiencing addiction

How does an alcohol or other drug addiction arise?

When a person has an addiction, they have a strong urge to seek and use a substance repeatedly, despite the negative impacts on many parts of their life as a result. The problem of addiction usually arises in the context of alcohol and a range of other drugs, whether legal or illicit. Around one in 20 Australians experience an addiction or substance abuse problem, highlighting the importance of understanding how the disorder works, and how an alcohol or other drug addiction can arise.


What makes addiction so difficult to beat?

There is evidence of neurobiological changes that occur along with addiction. The frequent use of a substance becomes associated with the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, responsible for pleasure and reward. This is reinforced each time one uses it to recreate a good experience. These brain processes may lead to someone prioritising the substance above all other activities. Addiction is also thought to affect the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is linked to impulse control and risk assessment. Changes like these contribute to the cycle of addiction.


What are some factors that might lead to an alcohol or drug addiction arising?

Research has shown that biology plays a part in someone being likely to develop an addiction – for example, heritability in families can be as high as 40 to 60%. However, it doesn’t rely on genetics alone. A person’s environment can also be highly influential: there may be behaviours learned through family relationships and social groups, or dysfunctional circumstances that places them at a higher risk of substance use and abuse.


Psychology also plays a significant role

There are some links between the experience of extreme emotional stress during childhood, particularly the impact of trauma from physical, sexual or emotional abuse during developmental years, and addiction later in life, possibly as a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. It also seems that other mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and so on are related to a higher likelihood of addiction. Though addiction is sometimes referred to as solely a disease of the brain, looking at one’s psychological profile and experiences is also key to understanding the disorder.


Treatment and breaking the cycle of addiction

The priority for treatment is for the person to stop using a substance. But this is not the end – the journey involves extensive rehabilitation and professional treatment. Psychological therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy, motivational interviewing and relapse prevention can be effective for reshaping a person’s thoughts and behaviours around substance use. The involvement of family, friends and peer support can also have positive impacts for stable recovery. Additionally, the person may need support in regaining life skills for employment, education and daily living.


How you can support someone overcoming addiction

There are often myths around addiction that create a negative stigma preventing those with the disorder from feeling safe to seek help. When supporting someone, it is vital to remember that there are unique and complex life factors that result in addiction, and it is unlikely to be due to the person’s choice or a lack of strength. The treatment process can be difficult, but there is always hope for a successful recovery. If you, or someone you know, is dealing with addiction, it is important to address these concerns with a health professional. Here at COPE Centre, we are here to help. Contact us here  if you’d like to find out more or speak to someone today.



Addiction. Psychology Today. (2021). Retrieved 31 July 2021, from

Substance abuse. (2020). Retrieved 31 July 2021, from

Biology of Addiction. News in Health. (2015). Retrieved 31 July 2021, from

T, B. (2020). When Does Drug Use Become an Addiction?. Verywell Mind. Retrieved 31 July 2021, from

How Does Drug Addiction Start & How Can it Be Prevented?. Desert Hope. (2021). Retrieved 31 July 2021, from