In recent years, there has been a steady rise in rates of drug and alcohol addiction. The latest data states that approximately one in every 10 Americans over the age of 12 struggle with a substance abuse addiction. That roughly translates to 23.5 million people. Reading these statistics, most people may wonder how so many people are falling victim to this disease. So, how does addiction happen?
What is Substance Abuse Addiction?
First, it’s essential to understand that substance abuse addiction is a brain disease. Addiction is not a choice. People who have a substance abuse addiction continue to prioritize their addiction above all else – relationships, health, safety, work – because their body and their minds are working against them.
Genetics plays a notable role in addiction. Studies of family members (identical and fraternal twins, siblings, adopted children) suggest that approximately half of a person’s risk of developing an addiction to substances depends on the person’s genetics. In fact, studies of twins and alcoholism found that 45-65% of the risk of an alcohol addiction comes from genetic factors.
Of course, having family members that struggled with substance addiction doesn’t mean the same will happen for everyone. However, individuals who know substance abuse runs in the family can significantly benefit from avoiding alcohol, smoking, and drugs as much as possible.
Another important factor that contributes to addiction is environment. When individuals are surrounded by constant substance use, they are more likely to do the same. This is especially true for children. One study found that 50% of adolescents exposed to drugs and alcohol before 15 were at an increased risk for adult substance addiction.
Some people turn to the effects of substances – such as alcohol or prescription painkillers – for the relief it can bring. Individuals struggling with trauma, mental health issues, or stress can start to self-medicate with substances. If this goes on for long enough, an addiction can quickly develop.
Lastly, drugs and alcohol are, of course, part of the problem. Our bodies enjoy the sensation that cocaine, heroin, crystal meth, alcohol, and other drugs can produce in our brains. After trying a substance, the body often wants to replicate the same experience. With enough use, you develop a tolerance and need more and more to achieve the same effect. This is simply the body’s response to substances that are highly addictive.
A Note on “Addictive Personalities”
Note that “addictive personalities” aren’t mentioned here as a source of addiction. While this used to be a common phrase, it’s no longer widely used. Addiction is a complex topic, and it doesn’t do any good to simply blame it on someone’s personality. As showcased here, it’s usually a complex set of factors outside of the person’s control.
So, How Does Addiction Happen?
Every person’s addiction story is different. For some, it could be the combination of a family history of alcoholism and a recent trauma. Other individuals may have been exposed to drugs at an early age and never stopped. Regardless of how it started, the most important response is to seek professional treatment. Addiction is a dangerous disease that can be life-threatening, but it’s also treatable.
By understanding the potential causes of addiction, individuals can stop blaming themselves and focus on healing.