Why do we become addicted to things? Recognizing the top 10 most common addictions

Genetics blamed for likelihood of facing addiction

A man drinking at a bar. (Photo by Darlene Alderson.)

As many people can probably guess, most of us aren’t born with an addiction, so how do people become addicted to something, anyway?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says it happens gradually, but it always begins with experimentation.

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Experts say that when broken down, addiction is a mental disorder -- a compulsive engagement with something that makes a person feel rewarded or happy, despite the fact that the experience can bring unfavorable consequences.

And even though addiction ultimately begins with experimentation, the group said, a combination of behavioral, environmental and biological factors are major contributors, as well.

The leading cause of addiction, officials say, is genetics. Simply put, it can be something parents, grandparents or great-grandparents have passed down through generations.

Environmental factors that can lead to addiction include:

  • An unstable home.
  • Peer or parental drug use.
  • A lack of support or self-assurance.

The bad news, experts added, is that people who are already living with other mental disorders have a higher risk of suffering from addiction.

Addictive substances: Top 10

The list of addictive substances and activities is extensive.

Among the common addictions, opioid abuse is rising. According to SAMHSA, the top 10 most common addictions are:

  • Tobacco
  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Opioids
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Benzodiazepines -- anxiety-reducing, hypnotic, sedative and anticonvulsant drugs that act rapidly
  • Stimulants
  • Inhalants
  • Sedatives

Recognizing the problem

The lack of recognition of the problem and a lack of understanding about addiction, as well as how it can affect someone, can lead to a high percentage of addicts unaware that they even have an issue, according to SAMHSA. Addiction is more common than many people realize.

Discussing addiction is especially important because it often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

SAMHSA data shows that about 19.3 million people aged 18 or older in the United States were affected by addiction in the past year, and at least 100 people die of drug addiction daily.

Understanding the addiction spectrum

The stages of addiction affect many people, and once the cycle begins, it is hard to break.

Do you have a loved one who might land on the spectrum? SAMHSA encourages people to seek medical attention and not self-diagnose.

This story was first published in 2019. It has since been updated.

About the Authors

Dawn Jorgenson, Graham Media Group Branded Content Managing Editor, began working with the group in April 2013. She graduated from Texas State University with a degree in electronic media.

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