Understanding the Causes of Addiction
Addiction doesn’t have one single cause. If it did, treatment and prevention would be much simpler. Research has uncovered multiple “causes” for the disease of addiction, which are more like risk factors. Understanding what is behind addiction is important for anyone facing it. Whether it’s your own problematic drinking or drug use or you care about someone who is struggling with addiction, understanding why this disease manifests in some people and not others is crucial. It will help you be more compassionate and will guide you toward the treatment that will be most effective.
Addiction Is Genetic
The more we understand about the human genome, the clearer it becomes that our genes affect all aspects of our lives. Of course this doesn’t mean that genes cause addiction. There is no single gene that determines whether you will become an addict. Researchers have found multiple genes that affect how individuals respond to substances, which make people more or less susceptible to addiction than others. For example, a gene has been found that makes mice crave alcohol, while another, when defective, makes them drink more than other mice. Some people have a gene that makes them react badly to alcohol. These people are much less likely to become problem drinkers.
While genetics and family history are important risk factors for addiction, one’s environment cannot be discounted. The environment in which you are raised has a big impact on whether you will experiment with drugs, whether you will drink alcohol to cope with emotions and whether you will become an addict. When family bonds are weak, when parents neglect their children or when they cause trauma to their children, those children are more likely to become addicts later in life.
Mental health issues can also be an important risk factor for addiction. One’s mental health is a kind of combination of genetic and environmental factors. While you can be genetically predisposed to certain mental health issues, they can also be caused or triggered by your environment, trauma, neglect and other factors. We also know that addiction is more common in people with mental illness. If you struggle with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health conditions, you are more likely to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol and to become an addict.
There are all kinds of factors that can work together to cause you to become an addict, but when you get right down to it, it is the substances themselves that cause addiction. When you abuse a drug or alcohol, your brain responds in such a way as to make you more likely to use the substances again. These substances cause certain brain chemicals to be released, which make you feel good or at least better if you are trying to stifle negative feelings.
Abusing substances regularly makes lasting changes in the wiring of your brain. Over time this means that you develop a tolerance to your drug and need to use more to get the same high you originally experienced. Then you start to feel withdrawal. You can’t feel normal without using the drug. This is all caused by the substance itself. It is the ultimate cause of addiction. If you never abuse a drug or alcohol, you cannot become an addict. With this understanding, hopefully you can make the choice to never experiment with substances. That choice is particularly important if you have some of the risk factors for addiction.