The Journey From Dependence to Abuse to Addiction

Every successfully recovering addict started their journey somewhere and although the first step, admitting there’s a problem, is the hardest, drug and alcohol treatment centers contribute considerably to smoothing the rest of a patient’s passage to sobriety.

Part of the journey to recovery involves tracing back the causes of addiction and the events that triggered the first drink, the first shot or the first painkiller that went on to develop into addiction.

Here we take a look at the various ways an individual can move from drug and alcohol dependence to misuse and ultimately addiction:


For quite a large portion of people in drug and alcohol treatment centers, their addiction issues started with an injury or medical condition that required strong and potentially addictive medications. Opioids, for example, are often contained in pain relieving prescription drugs and if they are used for a prolonged period of time, people can quickly become reliant on them to manage their pain. The challenge comes when the body becomes tolerant to the effects of opioid pain relievers leading to an individual feeling they have to up the dose to get the therapeutic effects.

As strong painkillers often contain controlled substances, a doctor is likely to carefully monitor prescriptions to ensure no risk of misuse or accidental overdose. As a patient needs stronger and stronger doses with prolonged painful conditions or injuries, they may be compelled to seek illegal alternatives in order to combat the pain they’re in.

The other difficulty with opioid-based painkillers is that it is not possible to simply stop taking them, particularly if they have been prescribed for any length of time. If a patient uses prescription drugs according to the instructions of their physicians, it is unlikely to result in any significant withdrawal when they no longer need pain relief. However, if they have taken matters into their own hands to up their dose without supervision it is more likely that dependence has become a full-blown addiction.


It is a widely held opinion that recreational drugs such as tobacco, marijuana and alcohol act as a gateway to stronger and more addictive substance abuse. However, it is more the mental state of an individual and what drives them to seek the effects of these recreation substances that will determine if they are likely to become addicted. Not everyone who enjoys a drink or uses marijuana is set on a path to addiction but there are some who are compelled to use for reasons beyond their control. Nevertheless, science has proven that if someone has an early initiation into the world of recreational substances, they are more likely to have an enhanced experience with stronger drugs and for that reason may be more susceptible to becoming addicted.


Whether it’s because of an ongoing injury or illness or the fact that someone has consistently used drugs for recreational reasons without the need for a prescription, people can often form a mental or emotional bond to the substances they use. What started out as being a physical need requiring medication to treat can sometimes become compulsive behavior rather than a controlled set of decisions. Someone who uses recreationally may originally be in control of when and what they use but over time, they can lose their grip on the choices they make and become addicted.

Drugs act by affecting the brain’s neurotransmitters that deal with reward and wellbeing and can often scramble messages to produce cravings for substances when there is no physical need for them. When neurotransmitters are functioning abnormally, the brain can start to ignore and override the body’s own defense mechanisms in preference of achieving the pleasant sensations the chemicals in drugs produce.


The characteristics of addiction include the following:

  • Compulsive misuse of drugs and alcohol
  • Inability to abstain despite a desire to do so
  • Failure to meet responsibilities at work and school
  • Avoidance of social situations and obligations
  • Spending a disproportionate amount of time and resources on drugs or alcohol
  • Development of withdrawal symptoms if substances are discontinued

The Importance of Professional Addiction Treatment

There are countless scenarios at play in the arena of addiction, with each individual having their own personal reasons and root causes behind substance abuse. Part of effective drug and alcohol treatment in California and elsewhere is focused on unraveling addiction issues to establish the specific treatments required for someone to successfully move back to their daily lives. This journey involves a retrospective look at how addiction developed and each person will have their own story to tell. Drug and alcohol treatment in California provides a balanced and empathetic environment in which people with addiction issues can grow in confidence that they can overcome their issues for a successful life of sobriety.