How Long Does It Take for an Addiction to Develop?

Individuals who experiment with substances of abuse for the first time usually wonder how long it takes to get addicted. Or, how much can they take before developing an addiction. The answer is complicated because many factors contribute to the development of addiction.
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Addiction develops differently in each person. An individual may take one hit of cocaine or one puff of crystal meth and become hooked. For their friends, the disease could develop much later, after dozens of uses. It can smack you in the face at any time, without warning. Once it does, your life will be forever changed.

While the length of time differs for everyone, factors exist that can help you understand addiction and the rate at which it develops.

Addiction and the Brain

You are at the mercy of your brain. It plays a significant role in your dependence to a substance.

The first time someone uses a drug, he or she may begin to feel its effects immediately. For example, when someone consumes ecstasy, they experience a burst of euphoria. When they take a painkiller such as oxycodone, they may feel extreme relaxation and reduced anxiety. Your brain reacts differently to each drug, and each drug affects certain areas of the brain.

Addiction can be expedited if the substance is injected intravenously, snorted, used in large amounts or taken in high frequencies. The more you take, or the heavier the dosage, the higher your tolerance becomes over time. This causes the pleasure to weaken and the cravings to heighten. Oftentimes, this result leads to a substance use disorder.

young boy swinging at the park

Early Influences

Drugs can manipulate the architecture of your brain while you’re still in the womb. Levels of stress and caregiver-child interactions directly affect the brain, influencing one’s long-term ability to control his or her emotions. Over time, as the person grows older, this can lead to compulsive decision making and substance abuse.

girl passed out at a party

Vulnerable Ages

Studies have shown adults develop habits that lead to addiction early in life — particularly during adolescence. This is a time when many teenagers are first exposed to drugs and alcohol.

The brain is still developing during these ages. The parts that control impulsivity, decision-making and executive control are not yet mature; therefore, exposure to illicit substances could stunt development, heightening the likelihood of obtaining a drug or alcohol disorder.

Risk Factors for Addiction

Researchers understand what happens to the brain when someone becomes addicted. What cannot be predicted is how long it takes to become addicted. Studies have shown catalysts exist that influence addiction and the speed at which it develops.

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It Doesn’t Take Long to Become Addicted

Addiction affects nearly 23 million Americans today, many of whom are struck by the disease after just a few uses. Simply dabbling with a substance can lead to a lifelong set of consequences.

The time it takes to pick up the disorder is different for everyone, though evidence shows it may not take very long for some people. Once developed, addiction can consume your everyday life, taking you down a long, dark road.

Medical Disclaimer: aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

Matt Gonzales
Content Writer,
Matt Gonzales is a writer and researcher for He graduated with a degree in journalism from East Carolina University and began his professional writing career in 2011. Matt covers the latest drug trends and shares inspirational stories of people who have overcome addiction. Certified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in health literacy, Matt leverages his experience in addiction research to provide hope to those struggling with substance use disorders.

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