Becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs is not a lifestyle choice. There is a myriad of reasons behind someone increasingly choosing to abuse substances. However, when someone enters alcohol or drug addiction treatment, their personal choices play an important role in recovery which leads us to ask: what role does choice play at the start of addictive behavior?

The main issue that clouds, whether choice plays a part in addictive behavior, is that it is viewed as a compulsion. People who are addicted to drink or drugs are viewed as being pushed towards using in an attempt to self-medicate, because every time they stop, unpleasant withdrawal symptoms start to emerge.

While it is true that addiction alters the functioning of the dopamine system, the developmental stages offer addicts the most opportunity to choose to alter their behavior. After a prolonged period of using, it becomes essential to completely detox the body at an addiction treatment center before replacing negative compulsive behavior with healthier decision-making.

Addiction Alters Brain Function and Takes Control of the Mind

At the core of addiction is the altered state of the brain fueled by dopamine that creates fundamental changes in an individual’s behavior. This behavior is manifested by drinking to excess or using illicit substances. Addiction is characterized by habitual behavior that although initially provides enjoyable experiences, however as time passes they eventually become self-sustaining.

It is the urge to use that becomes so powerful as to interfere with normal life. Personal relationships take a back seat as does work, studies, and other personal responsibilities. It is at this point that someone is likely to be diagnosed as an addict although research shows that only around 10% of addicts actively seek support at an addiction treatment center.

Another way addiction eliminates the ability to make personal choices is that when someone suddenly stops using, the withdrawal symptoms can kick in very quickly and be intense. More often than not, this is the factor that keeps people addicted as they seek ways to eliminate the distressing physical, mental and emotional feelings withdrawal induces.

In general, someone who has become addicted to drinking or drugs will have a shattered belief-system, making them capable of acting completely outside of their recognized personality. The need to self-medicate for withdrawal symptoms can become so overpowering that some people will commit petty crimes, even stealing from loved ones to get the money to buy more drugs or alcohol.

According to research, around 70% of theft crimes are associated with alcohol and drug use.

What are the Drivers Behind Addiction?

There are various internal and external factors that drive addiction. The external factors are that when there is more access to drugs or alcohol, the more addicted someone is likely to become. However, the internal factors are much more complex and less clear.

All addictions have a common denominator in that they provide intensely pleasurable experiences initially and over time the excess dopamine hijacks the brain’s pleasure systems, making usually enjoyable activities like family life, work or studies less interesting as addiction behaviors start to take over.

However, it’s important to remember that not everyone who uses drugs or alcohol becomes addicted and so there are other factors at play. Although these factors have yet to be completely determined, one of them is believed to be that some people are more susceptible to the pleasurable effects of drinking or drugs than others for various reasons.

In other addicts, there may be an inability to adopt healthy coping strategies when dealing with mental illness or trying to deal with a serious trauma. Another factor could be that some people have the propensity to develop compulsive behavior but it’s sufficient to say that each individual has a unique backstory and their own treatment needs.


Understanding addiction is useful when it comes to addressing the issue and seeking treatment at a drug and alcohol treatment center. Knowing what drives addiction and accepting that it is not a choice is important for addicts trying to take the significant step of checking into rehab. Our California rehabilitation center offers a luxurious environment in which patients can find their own path to recovery with our skilled guidance. The most important thing to bear in mind when suffering the agonizing illness of addiction is that there is hope for a much brighter future and that no-one is alone in addiction treatment or for the many years in recovery afterward.