Skip main navigation

The psychology of addiction

Substance abuse is widely reported to have significant effects as a burden on society, but why do people develop an addiction?
Tree shaped like a brain with leaves floating off
© CQUniversity 2021

Substance abuse is widely reported to have significant effects as a burden on society, but why do people develop an addiction? What is the psychology behind this?

The increasing trend of individuals presenting with chronic health impacts from substance use disorders leads us to examine the cycle of addiction. By identifying the set points which trigger an individual into a cascade of “abuse and addiction” we might understand the psychology of addiction.

The shift from occasional use to chronic, (and problematic substance abuse) is different for everyone, but research suggests that early life stress, cumulative adversity, and trauma, are elements which start the cycle of addiction and the inevitable burden on society as a whole. There may be a multitude of triggers and these are different for everyone.

The potent effects of each type of drug is well documented, and health officials, governments and organisations spend significant time and money in the treatment and management of addiction, but less attention has been paid to a person’s trigger (cue reactivity), drug motivation, and relapse risk. All of which are specific to an individual but may link to a societal trend.

An increased focus on the effects of acute and chronic drug use on the biological stress pathways and their related effects on stress, reward, craving, and relapse risk are essential to understand why a person becomes addicted to a substance in the first place.

© CQUniversity 2021
This article is from the free online

Understanding Addiction

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education