Does Recreational Drug Use Lead to Addiction? | Causes of Drug Addiction

Does Recreational Drug Use Lead to Addiction?

Many people believe that recreational drug use is something you do on weekends or from time to time. Others believe it is something you do once or twice a year. However, the answer is not so easy. There are many circumstances that affect whether occasional drug or alcohol use leads to addiction. Most drugs of abuse may alter a person’s thinking and judgment, leading to health risks, including addiction, drugged driving and infectious disease. Most addicts start as casual users, either on weekends or when they are in social settings, such as parties, ball games, fights, etc. If you occasionally tamper with cocaine, amphetamines, or other illicit drugs on the weekends are you an addict? What about if you have a drink of alcohol 3-4 nights a week, is that considered an addiction?  The differences between recreational drug use, and addiction are tremendous. However, recreational drug use is a road that could potentially lead to addiction for many users whether the substance of choice is drugs, or alcohol.

Understanding Drug Use and Addiction

Many people don’t understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. They may mistakenly think that those who use drugs lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop their drug use simply by choosing to. In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting usually takes more than good intentions or a strong will. Drugs change the brain in ways that make quitting hard, even for those who want to. Fortunately, researchers know more than ever about how drugs affect the brain and have found treatments that can help people recover from drug addiction and lead productive lives.

What are the Characteristics of a Recreational Drug User?

A recreational user is someone who is not dependent on the drug. When in situations to use, they are able to say no to the drug, or decide to consume the drug, or alcohol without becoming dependent on the substance. In addition to that recreational users are often able to not experience any type of impairment in functioning. Therefore, they are often able to hold down a job, attend school, and maintain healthy relationships with family and friends. They also do not need to rely on the substance when they experience times of stress, or to gain extra confidence in social situations. A recreational drug user does not use a substance to avoid any feelings, or use drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism against environmental stressors. In addition to that, after using a substance the recreational user does not experience the desire to use again, and does not become pre consumed or fixated on when they will get their next high.

What are the Characteristics of Someone Addicted to Drugs?

What Is drug addiction?

In asking the question, does recreational drug use lead to addiction? We must first define drug addiction.  Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences. The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, but repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs. These brain changes can be persistent, which is why drug addiction is considered a “relapsing” disease—people in recovery from drug use disorders are at increased risk for returning to drug use even after years of not taking the drug.

It’s common for a person to relapse, but relapse doesn’t mean that treatment doesn’t work. As with other chronic health conditions, treatment should be ongoing and should be adjusted based on how the patient responds. Treatment plans need to be reviewed often and modified to fit the patient’s changing needs.

What happens to the brain when a person takes drugs?

What happens to the brain when a person takes drugs?

The Brain’s Reward Circuit: Source NIDA

Most drugs affect the brain’s “reward circuit” by flooding it with the chemical messenger dopamine. This reward system controls the body’s ability to feel pleasure and motivates a person to repeat behaviors needed to thrive, such as eating and spending time with loved ones. This overstimulation of the reward circuit causes the intensely pleasurable “high” that can lead people to take a drug again and again.

As a person continues to use drugs, they may not think if recreational drug use leads to addiction. the brain adjusts to the excess dopamine by making less of it and/or reducing the ability of cells in the reward circuit to respond to it. This reduces the high that the person feels compared to the high they felt when first taking the drug—an effect known as tolerance. They might take more of the drug, trying to achieve the same dopamine high. It can also cause them to get less pleasure from other things they once enjoyed, like food or social activities.

Long-term use also causes changes in other brain chemical systems and circuits as well, affecting functions that include:

  • learning
  • judgment
  • decision-making
  • stress
  • memory
  • behavior

Despite being aware of these harmful outcomes, many people who use drugs continue to take them, which is the nature of addiction.

Severity of the addiction will predict the amounts of symptoms that an individual experiences. However, the symptoms of a person addicted to to drugs is the exact opposite of those who are recreational users

What Are The The Symptoms of Drug Addiction?

The DSM Criteria defines a Substance Use Disorder as:

A minimum of 2-3 criteria is required for a mild substance use disorder diagnosis, while 4-5 is moderate, and 6-7 is severe.

  1. Taking the substance in larger amounts and for longer than intended
  2. Wanting to cut down or quit but not being able to do it
  3. Spending a lot of time obtaining the drug
  4. Craving or a strong desire to use
  5. Repeatedly unable to carry out major obligations at work, school, or home due to substance use
  6. Continued use despite persistent or recurring social or interpersonal problems caused or made worse by a substance.
  7. Stopping or reducing important social, occupational, or recreational activities due to substance use
  8. Recurrent use of substance in physically hazardous situations
  9. Consistent use of substance despite acknowledgment of persistent or recurrent physical or psychological difficulties from using opioids
  10. Tolerance as defined by either a need for markedly increased amounts to achieve intoxication or desired effect or markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount.
  11. Withdrawal manifesting as either characteristic syndrome or the substance is used to avoid withdrawal.

What Causes Recreational Drug Use to Lead to Addiction?

The impact that drugs and / or alcohol have on the brain is a large predictor for problematic drug use behavior. There are numerous ways in which a substance acts on the brain which is dependent on the type of substance as well as individual differences within the brain. In an article published in the Los Angeles Times they make the bold statement that, “ Addiction is a Brain Disease”. Addiction as a brain disease is demonstrated through the drugs interaction with the brain.

How do Drugs and Alcohol Interact With the Brain?

Substance use has various interactions in the brain that lead to addiction. When a person consumes a substance, even if it is only once or during recreational drug and alcohol use that substance is interacting with the brain in numerous ways. Drugs are notoriously known for their implications on the Dopamine Reward Pathways in the brain. These pathways lead to feelings of accomplishment, and that the user is doing something that is deemed rewardable in the brain. Thus leading to the positive reinforcement of drug use.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that,  “This is the same process the brain undergoes with food, sex, water, and nurturance”. The concern here is that the aforementioned are necessary for survival whereas drugs are not. That is where chemical dependency gets tricky.  Because of the process of intake, and its implication on reward pathways, it leads to a substance being positively reinforced in the user. This can become an increasingly dangerous outlet when recreational users begin to use a substance to eliminate unwanted emotions, and feelings. In that case, not only is the substance itself being reinforced through dopamine pathways in the brain, the numbing of such emotions is being reinforced as well. All people experience stressors in life, and when such an outlet becomes available it is easy to fall onto the path of addiction. The processes in the brain are out of control for the recreational user, therefore it becomes the luck of the draw for those who become addicted.

The Warning Signs that Recreational Use is Becoming a Problem:

  • Tolerance is a big sign that points to  dependency. When you begin to take more of the substance to achieve the same high as you would of prior. This is a sign that your desire to achieve intoxication is stronger than your desire to refrain from substance use. Your body and brain is telling you that you want the elated feelings of being high or drunk.
  • Drug and alcohol use as an escape is a huge sign of moving from recreational use to addiction. Most people experience life stressors, and unwanted feelings in their day to day lives. However, a person who is not addicted to a substance will have positive coping strategies for dealing with these situations. On the other hand a person who is becoming addicted to a substance may find soothing for unwanted experiences in using a substance to numb stress, and unwanted feelings.
  • An impairment in meeting obligations is a marked sign of chemical dependency. As recreational use starts to become problematic the user may start to have trouble meeting obligations such as work, school, or other important aspects of day to day functioning.

Why do some people become addicted to drugs while others don’t?

No one factor can predict if a person will become addicted to drugs. When looking at other people, you may say, its very apparent when someone is addicted to drugs.  You may have seen them begin using and how they have progressed over time. You may have asked yourself, Does recreational drug use lead to addiction? A combination of factors influences risk for addiction. The more risk factors a person has, the greater the chance that taking drugs can lead to addiction. For example:

  • Biology. The genes that people are born with account for about half of a person’s risk for addiction. Gender, ethnicity, and the presence of other mental disorders may also influence risk for drug use and addiction.
  • Environment. A person’s environment includes many different influences, from family and friends to economic status and general quality of life. Factors such as peer pressure, physical and sexual abuse, early exposure to drugs, stress, and parental guidance can greatly affect a person’s likelihood of drug use and addiction.
  • Development. Genetic and environmental factors interact with critical developmental stages in a person’s life to affect addiction risk. Although taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction, the earlier that drug use begins, the more likely it will progress to addiction. This is particularly problematic for teens. Because areas in their brains that control decision-making, judgment, and self-control are still developing, teens may be especially prone to risky behaviors, including trying drugs.

Can drug addiction be cured or prevented?

As with most other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease, treatment for drug addiction generally isn’t a cure. However, addiction is treatable and can be successfully managed. People who are recovering from an addiction will be at risk for relapse for years and possibly for their whole lives. Research shows that combining addiction treatment medicines with behavioral therapy ensures the best chance of success for most patients. Treatment approaches tailored to each patient’s drug use patterns and any co-occurring medical, mental, and social problems can lead to continued recovery.

More good news is that drug use and addiction are preventable. Results from NIDA-funded research have shown that prevention programs involving families, schools, communities, and the media are effective for preventing or reducing drug use and addiction. Although personal events and cultural factors affect drug use trends, when young people view drug use as harmful, they tend to decrease their drug taking. Therefore, education and outreach are key in helping people understand the possible risks of drug use. Teachers, parents, and health care providers have crucial roles in educating young people and preventing drug use and addiction.

If you have a drug or alcohol addiction, Get Help Today!

It is imperative if you or a loved one is suffering from drug or alcohol addiction along with depression or another mental disorder (Dual Diagnosis), please get help. Coast to Coast Recovery Centers provide you with the best Addiction Treatment Centers in the United States. There are a variety of treatment options available. Get Insurance Verification to determine if your insurance provider covers alcohol abuse or addiction treatment. At Coast to Coast Recovery, you can find a range of addiction treatment services from holistic healing and complementary therapies to 12-step programs and Christian-based teaching. Let us help you end a life of addiction and start your journey to lasting sobriety. To learn more, call (800) 210-8229.

Take The First Step To Recovery!

We Are Here for You Every Step of The Way!

CALL (800) 210-8229

Need help fast? Call now!


For Treatment Help Call: