Why do some people get addicted, and others don't?

Friends toast at the Stadshaven Brouwerij in Rotterdam
terrace in Rotterdam
Jan Bijl, Rotterdam Make it Happen

It is late afternoon. Outside, the sun is shining, and the terraces are full. Does this make you crave a cold beer? While that one glass may do no harm for some, for others it can have a dark side: addiction. Dr Janna Cousijn (Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences) researches the addictive brain. In a video by Universiteit van Nederland, she answers the question: why do some people get addicted, and others not?

There are over a million problem drinkers in the Netherlands and alcohol is the biggest cause of addiction. How exactly does the addicted brain work? One of the most dominant theories is that in the brain in people who have problems with alcohol, two systems are out of balance, Cousijn explains in the video.

Janna Cousijn at Studio Erasmus
Arie Kers

The sound of a bottle of beer being opened

On the one hand, a system that helps you exert control over your behaviour, and on the other, a system that helps you look for rewards and motivation, your drive actually. "In people who are addicted, the motivation system works overtime, we think. They respond incredibly strongly to all kinds of triggers from the environment, for example the sound of a bottle of beer being opened," says the addiction researcher.

Alcohol is socially accepted

If you cannot resist those triggers, you are especially susceptible to addiction. Yet, according to the researcher, this is not the whole story. We are overlooking something important, which is the influence of your social environment. The norms surrounding alcohol consumption are something you are already brought up on. Alcohol is a socially accepted substance.

With smoking, for example, social acceptance is very much reduced. We see fewer and fewer people smoking. Cousijn: "I do wonder if in 20 years it might be the same for alcohol. That we gradually accept alcohol less and less in social life."

Watch the video below (in Dutch):

People on the terrace with a beer.

Why do some people get addicted and others don't?

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