Not everyone who uses alcohol or recreational drugs will develop an addition. This has led to a lot of speculation about why some people end up abusing these substances while most do not. It is now suggested that some individuals are simply more at risk of developing an addiction than others. This may be due to genetic or environmental factors, or more likely a combination of both.
It was once commonplace to view any type of addiction as a form of moral weakness. Addicts were viewed as willfully engaging in this type of behavior because of lack of morals and willpower. They were therefore undeserving of any sympathy. The addict had chosen their path of self-destruction, and so reap the rewards of this. In this model the way out of addiction is the moral fortitude to do the right thing.
Modern science has largely discounted moral weakness as the cause of addiction. There is now a lot more information about how drugs affect the brain. Physical and psychological dependence is now viewed as a pathological state. New discoveries about addiction have led to a move away from thinking about the addict as just a bad person or somebody with no willpower.
While most people will not become addicted to alcohol or drugs this does not mean that are somehow immune to the possibility. It is not just a case of this behavior only being a worry for the weak willed. Anyone who takes medication for a long period of time will develop at least a physical dependency on that substance. This is why there are many people who have unintentionally become addicted to prescribed medication. There is little doubt though, that certain individuals are far more at risk of developing this type of problem.
Some people have a higher potential for falling into addiction than others. These risk factors include:
* Those who use alcohol or recreational drugs at a young age. The younger a person is when they experiment with drugs the more likely they will be become an addict later on.
* Those who experience childhood trauma .
* Growing up in an environment where alcohol/drug abuse is considered normal behavior.
* Genetics. Those who have family members who are addicts will be more at risk.
* People dealing with a mental illness may self-medicate with recreational drugs
It has been suggested that individuals may have certain characteristics that make them more likely to become addicts. 15% of the population in the US is said to have this type of addictive personality. The National Academy of Science has outlined the following characteristics as being associated with addicts:
* Low self-esteem
* Those who don’t like to conform to societal expectations
* Those who are attracted to deviant behavior
* Those who find stress difficult to manage
* Antisocial behavior
* Episodes of depression
* Episodes of high anxiety
* Feelings of insecurity within relationships
* Attention seekers
* Those who find delayed gratification difficult
It is suggested that people may fall into addiction because of learned behavior. This would explain why those who grow up around substance abusers are more likely to become addicts themselves. Learning theory is based on the idea people don’t have to experience every behavior themselves in order to decide if it is good or bad. If it is observed that a certain action brings reward to another it can be enough to convince the individual to copy it. If a child sees other people who seem to be getting enjoyment from alcohol or drug abuse they will likely go on to model this behavior. According to this theory the answer to addiction is to unlearn the maladaptive behavior.
The idea of addiction as an illness became officially accepted during the 1950s when it was recognized as such by the American Medical Association. Alcoholism is now listed in the International Classification of Diseases. Instead of viewing the addict as bad they are now seen as suffering from an illness. They are no more deserving of moral judgments than the individual with any other disease.
This theory views addiction as a disease of the brain which may have biological as well as environmental causes. It is believed that individuals may have a genetic disposition which makes them more likely to develop such a dependency. Once an addiction has developed the only solution is complete lifelong abstinence. The disease theory of addiction is widely accepted, and is the one favored by Twelve Step groups.
The incentive sensitization theory proposes that people become addicted because of exposure to these substances. A strong compulsion arises because the brain begins to associate alcohol or drugs with the internal reward system. This occurs unconsciously but begins to affect conscious behavior. This compulsion to abuse the substance is a lot stronger than simply liking it. This is why the individual may still feel compelled to use alcohol or drugs even when they claim to no longer want to. The effects of sensitization can be long lasting, and this explains why people who have been in recovery for many years may still sometimes have cravings. Incentive sensitization theory suggests that addiction is a lot more complicated than just learned behavior.
Choice theory offers a different interpretation of addiction. In some ways it resembles the moral theory of addiction because it contends that this behavior is always a choice. The aim though, is not to blame the addict but to empower them so that they can make better choices in future. Here the reason for why the individual develops an addiction is that they have misunderstandings about how best to satisfy their basic needs. Reality therapy can be used to repair these misunderstandings.