Addiction Helpline and Resource Center

How Does Addiction Begin?

How Does Addiction Begin?Some illnesses, like colds or the flu, develop suddenly. Others, like heart disease or diabetes, tend to develop more slowly, and it is often difficult to pinpoint the moment they begin. Addiction may also be difficult to recognize in its beginning stages. Whether the progression from substance use to abuse to addiction is rapid or relatively slow, danger signs often go unrecognized.

Why People Begin to Use Addicting Substances

The first step in addiction is, of course, the consumption of a potentially addictive substance. People begin consuming substances for a variety of reasons. These include the following:

  • Treatment of a medical condition – Many people become addicted to drugs they were originally prescribed. Klonopin may be prescribed for a variety of conditions including panic and seizure disorders.
  • Pleasure – Drugs may be taken recreationally to provide feelings of relaxation or euphoria.
  • Relief from negative emotions or stress – Sometimes people use drugs or alcohol to provide temporary relief and distraction when they are depressed, anxious, angry, or otherwise emotionally uncomfortable.
  • Self-improvement or performance enhancement – People may take drugs in an attempt to lose weight, improve concentration and focus, improve athletic performance, or otherwise enhance appearance or ability.
  • Pressure from others – Using the substances that others do is often seen as a way to become part of a group or bond with a partner.
  • To enhance positive effects or counteract unwanted effects of other drugs – Although it can be dangerous to combine substances, it is not uncommon for people to do so and to take an increasing number of drugs in an attempt to treat side effects caused by others.

Drugs and Dopamine

Drugs have predictable effects on the human body, regardless of whether they are consumed for medical, recreational or other reasons. These effects differ with the drug but are often associated with an increase in the level of particular neurotransmitters. Most drugs of abuse increase dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. Klonopin also enhances the effectiveness of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter that sedates and calms.

The biological role of dopamine is to teach humans to associate pleasure with activities that ensure survival of the species, like eating and procreation. Most drugs of abuse are highly reinforcing, producing large increases in dopamine levels. In a publication titled “Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction,” the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that some drugs of abuse release two to ten times more dopamine than is released by natural rewards. They note that drug abuse can be said to be an activity we learn to do very well.

Although benzodiazepines like Klonopin have been on the market since 1960, the mechanism by which they increase dopamine has been poorly understood until recent years. A 2012 article titled “Well-Known Mechanism Underlies Benzodiazepines’ Addictive Properties” reports that researchers have determined that benzodiazepines cause addiction in a manner similar to the way that a number of other drugs like opioids and cannabinoids do. They weaken a type of cell that normally prevents dopamine levels from rising excessively.

Adaptation and Addiction

Addiction develops not only because of the reinforcing effects of dopamine but also because of the body’s attempts to maintain homeostasis or balance. When neurotransmitter levels are too high, the body attempts to bring them back to normal levels by reducing the amount produced or by making receptor cells less sensitive. Because of the body fighting back against a drug’s actions, people must take increasingly larger amounts in order to achieve the effects formerly produced by a smaller dose. This is known as drug tolerance. Drug tolerance is not addiction, but it is an indication that a process that can lead to addiction has begun.

As people continue to use an addictive substance, the body continues to adapt. Eventually it adapts to the point that it considers the presence of the drug in the body to be normal and neurotransmitter levels are only in balance when the drug is regularly consumed. When the drug is not regularly used, the imbalance leads to withdrawal symptoms. This is known as drug dependence.

People can be said to be addicted when they lose control of their consumption of a substance and they continue to use it despite negative consequences. The Mayo Clinic notes that symptoms of addiction include feeling a need to use a drug regularly and failing in attempts to stop. Drug use rises in importance leading people to spend increasing amounts of time, energy and money on acquiring and maintaining their supply.

There are genetic and environmental factors that raise the risk that given individuals will develop addiction, but no one is immune. Any use of an illicit drug or non-medical use of a prescription product is drug abuse and is dangerous. Early warning signs of addiction are often related to the growing importance of and preoccupation with the substance. They may include a neglect of responsibilities and a change in habits or social groups. Withdrawal symptoms are an important sign of drug dependence, but people often do not recognize them for what they are. The long list of possible Klonopin withdrawal symptoms includes anxiety, insomnia, irritability, confusion and memory problems, tremors and headaches.

Seek Treatment Promptly

If you or a loved one is dealing with addiction, it is wise to address it as soon as possible. Addiction is a progressive disease that tends to worsen over time. Call our toll-free helpline and let our phone counselors assist you in finding a treatment program that meets your needs. They are available 24 hours a day and can answer your questions, including checking your insurance coverage if you wish, at no cost or obligation. Call today, and let recovery begin.

banner ad