Ted likes to meet his friends after work for drinks. While he enjoys the occasional social drink, he rarely drinks at home and naturally limits himself to no more than three alcoholic beverages per week. Shari also likes to meet her friends for drinks, but also drinks alone, and has a hard time limiting herself. She finds herself making excuses for her drinking or justifying her actions. Eventually Shari realizes the hard truth: She has an addiction.
Why is it that some can use alcohol without developing an addiction or be prescribed medication without developing a dangerous tolerance?
One question many addicts have is—Why me? Why am I an addict? Addiction is a disease that often carries a heavy amount of shame and embarrassment. But addiction is no one’s fault. There are a number of factors that contribute to the development of an addiction including your environment, genetics and neurological make-up.
Your experience and environment can be very influential in developing a substance abuse problem. Stress, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, socioeconomic status, peer pressure and parental involvement all play a role in this disease. If you are dissatisfied with life, or have past experiences that you’ve used alcohol or drugs to cope with, you are more likely to develop an addiction. These influences are not the fault of an addict, but must be addressed during recovery in order to best combat possible relapses.
The Genetic Role in Addiction
Numerous studies indicate that many addicts are genetically predisposed to develop addiction. In fact, some suggest that genetic factors are the biggest cause of addiction. Therefore, if your family has a history of drug or alcohol abuse, you are more likely to abuse them yourself. In addition, other uncontrollable factors such as gender, ethnicity and a family history of a mental disorder can increase your likelihood of becoming an addict. Recognizing the role genetics play can help reduce the shame that can come with substance abuse and help addicts better understand why they must approach recovery as a complete lifestyle change, not just the elimination of a bad habit.
When we consume drugs or alcohol, it disrupts our neurotransmitters, the signaling process in our brain, and creates a pleasure or rewarding sensation. Over time, the brain adapts to this signaling meaning the user will require more of the drug to achieve the same sensation. As this tolerance develops, the user becomes inclined to use their substance of choice with greater frequency, often experiencing cravings based on environmental cues and experiences. This is the brain’s natural reaction. And when combined with other factors such as environmental influences and genetics, can play a significant part in the causes of addiction.
While many of the causes of addiction are out of your control, recovery isn’t. It is possible to move beyond drug or alcohol abuse. Learn more about the substance abuse recovery programs offered by Talbott and how they can provide help for addiction.