What is Addiction?

Addiction is a serious long-term disorder that is characterized by seeking substances despite significant consequences that affect all aspects of one’s daily life. It involves significant changes to multiple areas of the brain affecting reward, stress, and self-control pathways.

Like most mental health disorders, there are multiple causes of addiction:

  • Genetics: Most substance use disorders have a 50% chance of heritability, meaning only 50% of the ability to acquire a substance use disorder is inherited from parents.
  • Experiences during childhood: Less than ideal experiences as a child place adults at higher risk of substance use. Examples include being exposed to substances early on, abuse, neglect, and not having positive adult role models.
  • Brain structure: While small amounts of intoxicating substances have been around for centuries, the availability seen today is unprecedented. Our brains are often poorly equipped to handle this excess, leading to re-writing of healthy reward pathways to seek substances over healthy things like food, water, and reproduction.

Addiction is very common. About 1 in 8 people struggle with substance overuse.

Treatment for addiction should be individualized and reflect the patient’s goals and values. The most up-to-date research shows that a combination of medication and psychosocial support have the best outcomes.

For more information, visit the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website:

NIH – Addiction