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How Long Does It Take to Get Addicted? [Free eBook]

by | Last updated Apr 28, 2021 at 12:44PM | Published on Nov 6, 2020 | Drug Addiction

how long does it take to get addicted to drugs

Some people believe you’ll become an addict the moment you try a drug. Others think that it will take years before your recreational drug use turns into a full-blown addiction. In reality, the answer to that question is a bit more complicated than that. When asking how long it takes to get addicted, there are many different factors to consider before coming up with a valid answer. Let’s explore how long it takes to get addicted to some of the most commonly abused substances. 

How Long Does It Take to Develop an Addiction?

Overall, it depends. As we said, many factors determine the timeline for developing an addiction. However, it all boils down to the brain’s reward system. Drug addiction is a brain disease because of how these substances affect the brain’s pathways. Researchers found physical changes in areas that are responsible for judgment, decision-making, learning, memory, and behavior control when looking at the brain of people with addiction.

More than a set timeline, researchers believe it is the repeated use of such drugs that create these chemical changes that alter the brain’s reward system. Once someone continues to use and pursue the use of a substance, it means their reward system has been affected, and they’re likely struggling with an addiction. 

However, not all substances work the same way. It is common for an addiction to sneak up on people. Tolerance is key to the development of addiction. Sometimes, people slowly build up a tolerance, and they’re struggling with addiction before knowing it.  

how long does it take to become an addict ebook

Signs of Addiction

People develop addictions in various ways. It’s not uncommon for someone with a stable job and family to be struggling with an addiction. These individuals are what we know as functional addicts. For example, a study in 2007 found that almost 19.5% of alcoholics in the United States were functioning alcoholics. Nonetheless, even high-functioning addicts will show specific signs of addiction, including:

  • Intense cravings for drugs or other substances once its effects start to wear off.
  • Minimizing, hiding, or lying about drug use to family and friends. 
  • Building up a tolerance and using the substance more frequently than before.
  • The need to get a higher or more long-lasting effect from the substance by combining it with other drugs, using illicit substances, or mixing different drugs.
  • No longer finding pleasure from activities that used to be enjoyable.
  • Difficulties keeping up with everyday responsibilities like work, family obligations, or school.
  • Feeling a need for the substance to get through certain situations. 
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop using the substance. 
  • Feeling anxious or depressed without the substance. 

Factors That Affect Addiction

No two individuals are alike, and varying factors affect our body’s sensitivities to certain drugs. Some people can use a drug various times without suffering adverse effects, while others take the same medication and experience bad reactions or even an overdose after the first time they use it. Likewise, someone can become addicted after trying a substance for the first time, while others might never develop an addiction at all. Many factors make someone more susceptible to develop an addiction, including:

  • A family history of addiction.
  • History of trauma or abuse.
  • Underlying mental health problems. 
  • Early substance use.

Are Some Drugs More Addictive Than Others?

Although some people are more susceptible than others to develop an addiction, it’s also true that some substances are more addictive than others. Because of their chemical makeup and how they interact with our bodies, certain drugs can be more addictive than others. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), in their 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment, the most addictive drugs are:

  1. Heroin.
  2. Cocaine.
  3. Tobacco.
  4. Street methadone.
  5. Barbiturate.
  6. Alcohol.
  7. Benzodiazepines.
  8. Amphetamines.
  9. Buprenorphine.
  10. Ketamine. 

Understanding How Long Does It Take to Get Addicted to Various Substances

Now that you understand what it takes to get addicted to a substance, let’s explore some of the most commonly abused drugs. While these are not set timelines, they’re an overall idea of how addictive these substances are and how dangerous they can be at the onset of addiction. 


Alcohol is a tricky substance because it’s so widely accepted by society. It takes merely ten seconds for the alcohol to reach our brain and start changing how it works. This is why we quickly lose our inhibitions, become more lose, and feel euphoric when we start drinking. It’s a false sense of happiness caused by the alteration of chemicals in the brain. 

While there isn’t a set timeline for developing alcoholism, researchers talk about the stages of alcoholism. During the early stages, people engage in binge drinking, but they don’t necessarily feel their drinking’s adverse effects. By the middle stage, they start to struggle with blackouts, physical health problems, and their withdrawal symptoms become more uncomfortable.

When they get to the third stage of alcoholism, people will start to involve alcohol most of their daily routines. Here’s when they’ll begin to become preoccupied with consuming alcohol. The end-stage is when someone is already under the influence of an alcohol use disorder. 


Prescription amphetamines like Adderall are generally safe when people follow their doctor’s instructions. However, people often misuse these substances to achieve a high that eventually could trigger an addiction. Unfortunately, even someone who uses amphetamines for an extended period of time can develop a dependence that could lead to addiction. 

Those with easy access to amphetamines, have depression or anxiety disorders and live a stressful life are more prone to develop an amphetamine dependence. Because amphetamines cause hyper-stimulation, people are likely to crave to this feeling of energy, self-assurance, and confidence. Amphetamines can help people accomplish more than they would normally without the drugs, so it’s not unlikely for humans to crave this feeling. 

Some people even say that it’s this ongoing all-or-nothing culture and culture around success behind the rise in amphetamine addictions. 


Here’s a group of drugs that can be highly addictive. Benzodiazepines or benzos include Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Ativan, and other popular drugs that are often misused. One of the scariest things about benzos is that it might take three to four weeks to develop an addiction. These are highly potent substances that people develop tolerance to in just a few days. This is why these medications are best for short-term treatment only.

Of course, this is not necessarily the case for everyone. When someone takes benzodiazepines at low doses and follows their doctors’ instructions to the dot, they can probably use these prescriptions to treat a medical condition without worrying about developing an addiction. 


Since cigarettes have been around for decades, here’s more long-term research about them. Additionally, cigarettes are a controlled but legal substance that helps researchers analyze in a broader way than other substances. 

Researchers found that symptoms of nicotine addiction can start within a few days of starting to smoke. In the study, almost two-thirds of participants had nicotine dependence symptoms within two weeks after starting smoking. Of those, 1 in 5 said their symptoms made them start smoking every day. 

Similar to other drugs, nicotine found in cigarettes and vapes causes a surge in dopamine levels. This is why people feel euphoric and a buzzed-out sensation when smoking. However, when smoking, these feelings happen almost instantly, and the body quickly develops a tolerance to this feeling. Plus, because smoking isn’t has criticized or taboo as smoking cocaine, people are more likely to use cigarettes every day. Thus, developing dependence and addiction much easier than with other substances. 


Opioids are effective painkillers that require extreme responsibility from the user and the prescribing doctor. Whether taken with a prescription or found on the streets or through friends and family, opioids are highly addictive substances. On average, it takes a couple of weeks for our bodies to become physically dependent on an opioid. However, that varies from individual to individual. Even that first dose of opioids can have psychological effects that could trigger a path of addiction. 

For opioids, mainly when someone takes the medication, it is a critical factor in determining addiction risk. The longer someone takes opioids, the more likely they’ll become physically dependent. 

Finding Help for Addiction

You don’t have to wait until you’re struggling with a full-blown addiction to get help. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, the time to get help is now. Whether you’re struggling with alcohol, Adderall, cigarettes, Vicodin, or cocaine, addiction treatment is available. At Lighthouse recovery institute, we focus on offering comprehensive, personalized addiction treatment services to help you walk the path toward recovery. 

For most of these addictions, there are FDA-approved medications that can help ease the dependence and help people steer off these substances. Not to mention, there are evidence-based treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational enhancement therapy (MET), 12-step facilitation therapy, maintenance programs, and much more. 

While medications are an essential element of treatment, behavioral therapies –individual therapy, family, and group therapy — are paramount to an effective treatment. It’s not unlikely to reassess someone’s treatment plan as they make progress and incorporate different techniques such as alternative therapies, relapse prevention classes, and life skills development courses to better navigate their sobriety. 

Stop finding excuses to avoid getting the treatment you need to survive. We can help you find out if your insurance might cover your rehab program or help you figure out payment options, as well as the right treatment path to choose to start your recovery. Together we can help you overcome this horrendous disease and help you enjoy a healthy, sober, and exciting life.

Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Digital Marketing Manager. She has a Bachelor’s in Journalism and experience in the digital media industry. Geraldine’s writing allows her to share valuable information about mental health, wellness, and drug addiction facts, hoping to shed light on the importance of therapy and ending the stigma.
Medical Disclaimer:

Lighthouse Recovery Institute aims to improve the quality of life for anyone struggling with substance use or mental health disorder. We provide fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their outcomes. The material we publish is researched, cited, edited, and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide in our posts is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be used in place of the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider.

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