Influences On Addiction – Understanding The Factors
Influences on addiction are numerous as an overwhelming number of people are affected by substance dependence. According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 20 million people age 12 and over reported struggling with a substance abuse disorder within the past year. Substances contributing to addiction include alcohol, cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine, misuse of prescription pain pills, stimulants, and benzodiazepines like Xanax, as well as other illicit drugs . Plus, these numbers only reflect the people who show up to get help— tons more are suffering under the radar. What’s more, the impact increases when we consider how addiction affects marriages, families, workplaces, and communities.
Since substance use disorders have such wide-reaching consequences, it’s important that addiction education become just as pervasive. When everyday people who are dealing with addiction have a better understanding of it, they are empowered to recognize risk factors, overcome denial and enabling behaviors, and take action as soon as a problem becomes apparent. More importantly, informed people are better equipped to get the help they need and develop strategies to prevent relapse.
Many factors can have a significant influence on addiction and a person’s likelihood to develop a substance use disorder. Here are five of the top variables at play. Below each, we have also provided some suggestions as to how these same variables can be addressed to help influence recovery.
Genetic Influences on Addiction
Did you know that a person could actually be genetically vulnerable to develop a drug addiction? That’s right. Addiction is a chronic brain disease and researchers have discovered that a great percentage of a person’s susceptibility arises from their genes.
Studies looking at families, adopted children, and twins demonstrate the heritability of addiction. The more similar the genetic makeup to an addicted person, the higher the risk that a family member will battle addiction. Interestingly, studies show that the relationship between genes and addiction is at its highest during youth. As a person gets older, this influence starts to lessen (and other factors become more influential). Still, this is quite alarming news, particularly when we consider that most drug use begins early.
What You Can Do
Just because a parent or sibling has struggled with addiction doesn’t mean an individual’s fate is sealed. Many scientists like to use the phrase “susceptibility does not mean inevitability.” For example, if a person never uses drugs, their chance of becoming addicted is nearly eliminated. Personal choice is a factor here.
What this means is that a person with a genetic predisposition needs to take precautions when it comes to drugs and alcohol. Only take prescription pills that have been prescribed to you; and discard them as instructed afterwards. Steer clear of alcohol whenever possible, especially if you are sad, lonely, or upset. Skip illicit drugs like marijuana and cocaine altogether.
Brain Chemistry and Development Influences on Addiction
We know that addiction is a brain disease, but studies reveal to us that certain people’s brains are more susceptible to becoming addicted. For instance, science of neurodevelopment has revealed that since the brain’s of adolescents and teens who use drugs haven’t fully developed, they are more susceptible to addiction. Adolescents are also more prone to certain personality traits like impulsivity and sensation-seeking— two additional factors that raise one’s risk of having a substance use disorder.
Furthermore, even adults have a higher risk of becoming addicted when they misuse drugs simply because drugs change both the structure and the functions of the human brain. If the brain works like an advanced computer with millions of tiny networks, drugs come in and wreak havoc to these networks. Many drugs mimic typical brain chemicals while others stimulate the production and release of neurotransmitters. When these ordinary brain processes go haywire, a person’s decision-making, self-control, and problem-solving skills become impaired. In addition, drugs activate the pleasure centers in the brain, increasing the likelihood that a person will use again to achieve that same feeling. In a phrase, drug abuse can cause our brains to turn against us.
What You Can Do
The best course of action here is to avoid alcohol and drugs altogether. Parents should maintain open and ongoing communication with their teens about the risks of drug use, discuss messages in the popular media that normalize teen drinking and drug use, and help their kids learn how to handle peer pressure. It’s also important for all members of the family to safely use, discard, and monitor any prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications in the home to minimize the likelihood of misuse.
If drug use has already started, seek help for detoxing right away— before an addiction gets even worse.
Environment Influences on Addiction
Familial influence on the development of substance abuse goes beyond simply passing down genes.
Families not only share a home, but much of the time they also share habits, social groups, and cultural viewpoints. These all demonstrate how family members can impact a person’s likelihood to use drugs and develop an addiction.
In families where others are addicts, heavy drug users, or where drug use is encouraged, adolescents and young adults may be less likely to say “no” to drugs merely because they are readily available. As stated previously, drug use at an early age often predisposes one to dependence. Familial environment may also serve as a predictor of teen drug abuse if there is a lack of parental supervision and marital or household discord.
Broader social environment can also have an impact. For instance, if an individual spends time with non-family peers who use drugs or if they consume pop culture media that normalizes drug use, they are more likely to use. In addition, teens who have difficulties at school, struggle socially, or are the victims of bullying are at greater risk of using and becoming addicted to alcohol and drugs.
What You Can Do
Improve your environment by finding good role models who lead healthy, drug-free lifestyles. Also, spend time with supportive, drug-free peers who won’t encourage drug use. Make a commitment to cut idol leisure time drastically. Instead, participate in positive, constructive activities such as joining professional organizations, volunteering, or playing sports.
Parents can take more of an active role in their kids’ lives by monitoring their internet activity, getting to know their friends, communicating with them about the risks of alcohol and drugs and developing a strong parent-child relationship. Making even a few small, positive changes can significantly lower a child’s risk of using drugs and developing an addiction.
Parents should also prioritize getting help for teens who are struggling academically or socially. Get the child into therapy to address issues that may make them prone to drug abuse.
Mental Health Influences on Addiction
Psychological factors may also make one more vulnerable to addiction. Co-occurring disorders, or dual diagnosis, is very common in individuals with substance use disorders. Dual diagnosis describes the presence of one or more mental illnesses and a substance use disorder.
According to 2014 data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) approximately 7.9 million American adults suffered from co-occurring disorders. These may include major depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety among others. Dual diagnosis presents a unique problem not experienced by individuals with only a mental illness or only a substance use disorder, such as abuse of opiates and major depressive disorder. As a result, individuals with co-occurring disorders often experience worsening in psychological symptoms and higher rates of relapse.
Both the mental condition and the addiction were both influenced by risk factors described above, such as family history and environment. Researchers are often conflicted as to which caused which: the substance abuse or the mental illness? However, studies have shown that untreated psychiatric disorders can prompt a person to self-medicate with drugs and/or alcohol, which basically sets the foundation for addiction.
What You Can Do
Ongoing and thorough treatment for a pre-existing mental illness is critical to help an individual avoid co-occurring disorders. Education— that is, learning more about the effects of substance use— can also help lower incidences of dual diagnosis.
If an addict is already struggling with co-occurring disorders, both conditions must be addressed for recovery to be successful. Specialized dual diagnosis rehab programs provide comprehensive treatment that helps an individual detox from substances while also helping to stabilize their mental health symptoms.
Life Stressors Influences on Addiction
Contextual factors also play a role in the development of substance use disorders. If an individual is already vulnerable due to genetics or environment, for instance, a major life stressor could set them on a path to chronic drug use and addiction. What’s more, failing to manage stress effectively is also a risk factor for relapse. Life stressors that may contribute to addiction can vary widely, including traumatic events like sexual abuse or natural disasters, job loss, poverty, divorce, loneliness, bullying, or a death in the family.
Stressful events are yet another situation in which an individual may self-medicate with drugs and alcohol to numb painful or uncomfortable feelings. The escape from the stressor by numbing only lasts for so long, so the person uses more and more and more of the substance. Therefore, life stress can initiate drug use, maintain it, and cause relapse.
What You Can Do
It’s impossible to think that one can completely get rid of stress. Stressful events are a fact of life. However, individuals at risk of addiction can learn healthy and effective ways to cope with and manage stress. Individual and family therapy sessions can provide a multitude of useful strategies to help people identify, deal with, and change the way they think about and react to stress. Relaxation activities like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation can help with stress in the moment. Better time-management, conflict resolution, cognitive restructuring, and improved diet and exercise can serve as long-term ways to get stress under control.
Stress is also amplified when a person is isolated, so spending time with supportive peers can help. Talk to a counselor, family member, friend, or support group to feel less alone when stress hits.
One of the best weapons against addiction is knowledge. When those affected by addiction are able to gain insight into some of the factors that put them and their loved ones at risk, they are in a better position to prevent addiction or get help before it turns their lives upside down. Also, when we know more about what contributes to substance use disorders, we are less likely to spend time pointing the finger and blaming the person. Rather, time can be spent getting high-quality treatment and building a plan of action to maintain sobriety.
The best holistic dual diagnosis addiction treatment centers address all of these factors when helping people overcome substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our rehab programs.