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How Addiction Begins

How Addiction Begins, main areas of addiction, Addictive Behaviors,

For each person who walks through our doors in South Carolina for residential treatment, the timeframe between using substances and developing a substance use disorder (SUD) varies. And not everyone who uses substances will develop an addiction. However, several factors make a person more likely to develop substance use disorder:

  • Biology and family history of addiction
  • Environments that are chaotic, abusive, expose people to substances, or a combination of all three
  • Intense stress or sudden change 
  • Childhood trauma
  • Circumstantial traumas like war, terrorism, or being the victim of a crime

It’s also important to distinguish between the three main areas of addiction and drug use: substance dependence, substance addiction, and addictive behaviors that don’t involve drugs or alcohol. When all three are understood, it’s easier to pinpoint when an addiction begins to form. 

Dependence Vs. Addiction: The Crucial Difference

From a biological standpoint, the difference between dependence and addiction is neurological, with addiction having more of an effect on brain chemistry. People who are dependent on a substance but not addicted to it will experience physical withdrawal symptoms if they stop receiving the substance, but they won’t have the same level of mental and psychological attachment to the substance. 

This is because addiction can permanently alter neural pathways in the brain. These alterations are visible when looking at pictures or scans of the addicted brain. The neural pathways in question are pleasure and reward systems, which are affected by levels of the pleasure hormone dopamine. 

In cases of dependence, a person may experience minor or major physical discomfort when withdrawing from the substance but no neurological pressure or distress that drives them to keep using it. For example, a person can become dependent on caffeine. Skipping their morning cup of coffee can give them a headache and make them feel groggy and irritable. However, the coffee drinker has more capacity to choose to quit, as caffeine does not affect the brain’s reward system as much as more addictive substances do. 

Once the brain is accustomed to huge surges in dopamine triggered by substance use, it becomes desensitized to lower quantities of dopamine released by things like exercise, engaging in a favorite hobby, enjoying family, eating a favorite food, having sexual intercourse, etc. These pleasures no longer provide enough stimulation, and the addicted brain craves substances to experience the highs they provide.

Addiction Behaviors: A Brief Look at Compulsivity and Impulsivity

Addictive behaviors or behavioral addiction can involve substances but can also extend to activities like internet usage, viewing pornography, gambling, shopping, stealing, exercising, or eating. While behavioral addiction looks different than abusing heroin or smoking too much marijuana, the brain addicted to shopping looks similar to the brain addicted to cocaine. The same neural alterations occur.  

The Warning Signs of Addiction and Addictive Behaviors

When it comes to pinpointing the start of SUD or a behavioral addiction, look for physical, behavioral, and psychological red flags. Observe the person’s physical appearance and detect if you notice any of the following:

  • Bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils
  • Changes in sleep, weight, or appetite 
  • A lack of typical personal hygiene or negative change in upkeep and style 
  • Runny nose or sniffling
  • Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired balanced
  • Different breath, body, or clothing odors 

Then, assess for the following behavioral and psychological signs:

  • Uncharacteristic changes in friend groups, hobbies, or money management
  • Uncharacteristic personal, familial, academic, or professional negligence
  • Secretive or suspicious actions 
  • The unprecedented presence of paranoia, fear, or lethargy
  • Mood swings and personality shifts
  • Spikes or dips in energy, spaciness, or drowsiness

Get Help For Addictive Behaviors With Waypoint Recovery Center in South Carolina

If you’re questioning whether you or your loved one is dealing with a substance dependence, a substance addiction, or a behavioral addiction—you can contact us at our Cameron or North Charleston locations. We can help you draw a well-founded conclusion, conduct a thorough assessment, and offer recovery services where they’re needed.


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For more information about Waypoint Recovery Center’s substance use disorder treatment services, please contact us anytime at (854) 214-2100.

Our Locations

Outpatient Treatment
5401 Netherby Lane, Suite 402
North Charleston, SC 29420
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Inpatient Treatment
499 Wild Hearts Rd
Cameron, SC 29030
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