Addiction is a terribly destructive force that not only harms the individual but also their loved ones. Drinking alcohol is socially acceptable and the vast majority of people will never have any real problems because of it. There are also those individuals who experiment with recreational drugs without becoming dependent on these substances. This has led to questions about why some individuals become addicts while others do not. There does not seem to be any one single factor that determines who becomes addicted, but some individuals do seem to be more at risk.
During the last couple of decades the word addiction has come to be used to describe a variety of behaviors. In common speech it is usual to use this term to describe any situation where the individual likes or does something excessively. When it comes to talking about substance abuse it is helpful to have a more precise definition of this word. To say that the individual is addicted to a substance means that they have developed a physical as well as psychological dependence.
A psychological dependence involves feelings of craving. This is an intense desire to keep on using the substance even when it is obviously leading to problems in the person’s life. The thought of doing without their chemical crutch can fill the individual with dread and anxiety. They will find it difficult to even imagine life without alcohol or drugs. Many of these people will have turned to substances abuse originally in an attempt to escape their problems. It is possible for people to become psychological dependent without having a physical addiction.
Alcohol and other drugs are toxic substances. The human body is a remarkable piece of equipment and it is able adapt to these chemicals. An unfortunate side-effect of this is the individual now develops a physical dependence. This means that they will experience withdrawal symptoms should the level of the substance in the bloodstream fall to low. These physical withdrawals can be highly unpleasant and in some cases may even be fatal. Another outcome of dependence is that the individual now needs more of the substance to get the same effect.
One of the most interesting questions surrounding addition is deciding who is at risk of developing such a problem. If it is solely due to genetic factors then this will limit the number of people who are at risk. If it is due to environmental factors then this might suggest that it could happen to anyone. The consensus opinion seems to be that people become addicted due to a mixture of genetic and environmental factors.
There are believed to be four factors that make people more at risk of developing and addiction. These are:
* Childhood experiences
* Mental health problems
* Psychological factors
Those individuals who grow up in a dysfunctional family tend to be more at risk of developing an addiction later on. The things that happen to people during their early years can set the tone for the rest of their life. Children who are exposed to a great deal of trauma may later turn to substance abuse as a means to cope with the inner turmoil.
If family a member abuses alcohol or drugs it increases the chances of children later developing an addiction. This can be due to sharing the same environment as the addict as well as genetic factors. If children are exposed to adults involved in substance abuse it can predispose them to engaging in these activities. Such behavior can then appear normal to the child. The child’s peer groups will also have an impact on the individual’s attitude towards drug abuse.
There is little doubt that addiction passes from one generation to the next. It can be difficult though, to determine if this is due to sharing an environment or because of genetic factors. Scientists have been unable to find one single gene responsible for addiction, but it seems likely that a combination of genes does play a part. Studies conducted on mice are providing good evidence for genetic factors in addiction. Research on twins also suggests that genetics plays at least a moderate role.
Many addicts suffer from a dual diagnosis. This means that they have another mental health problem as well as their addiction. In some cases this other condition will have developed as a result of substance abuse, but it will often have been there prior to this. Those individuals who have problems with impulsivity are more at risk of addiction; this includes people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and borderline personality. People who are dealing with high amounts of anxiety can be tempted to turn to substance abuse as a means to self-medicate.
Some individuals have personalities that put them more at risk of falling into addiction. Those people who have an inner need for high degrees of sensory pleasure will often be attracted to drug abuse. People who have a tendency to act impulsively will be liable to overuse alcohol and drugs because they don’t think enough about the consequences.
Twelve step groups, such as AA or NA, view addiction as a chronic disease. Within this view is the idea that the individual will have had the seeds of this disease before they touched alcohol or drugs. This is why they have become addicted while others do not. This view suggests that only certain people will be more at risk of addiction, because they are genetically predisposed to it.
The American Psychologist William Glasser has put forward the theory that people become addicted to substances because to choose to do so. This theory downplays the importance of environmental factors such as peer pressure and family. It also discounts biological factors. The individual is viewed as completely responsible for their own choices. People abuse alcohol and drugs because they mistakenly believe that this is the best way to deal with life.