Well, that is the million $dollar question. If we knew exactly what addiction was, what caused it, then we would be one step closer to preventing it, curing it, or is it even an illness at all?
I’m in recovery myself, have been sober for over 15 years and have been an Addiction Counsellor for 13 years. In all my years dealing with addiction, I am no closer to really understanding the mechanics of addiction and just why some people are more prone to addiction than others. Addiction affects people in different ways and no two addicts are the same, as no two people are the same. It is unique to each individual, but there are many similarities, especially behaviorally.
I decided to break it down into categories, and have included some research to answer questions.
Genetic & Hereditary
Now questions have been asked, is addiction genetic and are you just predisposed to be an addict whether you had a choice or not. Where you born addicted? According to “Addictions and Recovery” Genetics has a 50% predisposition to addiction, from generation to generation. The Role of Family History
“Addiction is due 50 percent to genetic predisposition and 50 percent to poor coping skills. This has been confirmed by numerous studies. One study looked at 861 identical twin pairs and 653 fraternal (non-identical) twin pairs. When one identical twin was addicted to alcohol, the other twin had a high probability of being addicted. But when one non-identical twin was addicted to alcohol, the other twin did not necessarily have an addiction. Based on the differences between the identical and non-identical twins, the study showed 50–60 percent of addiction is due to genetic factors.(1) Those numbers have been confirmed by other studies.(2) The other 50 percent is due to poor coping skills, such as dealing with stress or uncomfortable emotions.”
The same as genetic did you inherit the behaviors of your parents, and if your parent or parents’ were alcoholics, could you have been influenced, even pre-birth. How is it then that addiction has been known to skip generations and even siblings?. There is no scientific proof of this but what tends to happen is that a child affected by parental addiction, leaves the home at a young age, ceases contact with the family of origin. Usually, in these cases, the person is so repulsed by alcohol/drugs, that they choose to never drink or use, thus escape the effects of chemical dependency. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have escaped addiction. As quoted by Rubin Khoddam
“Many of us see our family member struggling with addiction and make the decision to run away as far as we can from that. Others of us, often unconsciously, go down the same path as our loved one by falling into the cycle of addiction. It’s hard to say why people choose the path they do. However, research has shown us genetic and environmental reasons why some may go down one path rather than the other.”
~ Rubin Khoddam, The Addiction Connection
Like hereditary, is addiction a learned behavior. If you see your parents or significant others using drugs and alcohol and then normalizing that use, could you grow up the same?
“Addiction involves the pursuit of attractive goals. It is hardly abnormal. It involves brain changes because that’s how learning works.” by Marc Lewis
Our brains are constantly learning, so nothing is ever really learned, yes we might have picked up bad habits from our families and peers, but those behaviors and habits can be changed as we re-learn different behaviors and habits.
Abuse, Trauma & PTSD.
Most active addicts and alcoholics are stuck in a rut, similar to someone who suffers from trauma. A childhood event that has never been dealt with can be activated by an action, event, sight, sound, smell, touch and even taste. Addiction and trauma affect the brain in a similar way. They both mask and compliment each other. According to the “AddictionCentre”, people who have suffered from Trauma tend to use alcohol and drugs to help them cope with emotional pain.
“Nearly three-quarters of those surviving violent or abusive trauma report alcohol use disorders.”
– U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs
Addiction is and isn’t classified as a mental health disorder as a person who suffers from addiction, when sober in many cases would not display any symptoms of mental illness. However co-occurring or dual-diagnosis are becoming far more common, especially amongst drug and polydrug users. Long term effects of alcohol can cause Korsakoff syndrome or ARBI (Alcohol Related Brain Injury), which is an irreversible mental condition.
Although ARBI is normally related to middle to old age “Street Drinkers”, with the Binge drinking culture prevalent now amongst teenagers, more cases of ARBI are presenting in people in their early thirties.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum can occur in unborn babies who have been exposed to the mothers drinking through pregnancy.
Dopamine is the feel-good receptor in your brain, so, for example, every time your smartphone pings with a new message, you get a dopamine rush. Now initially alcohol causes the same effect but over a period of time your dopamine levels become imbalanced due to overstimulation, and withdrawal from alcohol can be very unpleasant and even dangerous. Dopamine then has an adverse effect and can cause severe depression and suicidal ideations. So dopamine and alcohol are a bad combination.
Chemical Dependency is a physical form of addiction. In the case of chemical dependency, the whole of the body becomes dependent on the substance, even down to a cellular level. Once a person is chemically dependent and not just psychologically addicted, then a detox regime has to be administered to manage withdrawal.
Chemical dependence is a normal reaction to an addictive chemical. The body becomes dependent on the drug/medication/alcohol and it’s effects, and when the substance is stopped, the individual may suffer symptoms of withdrawal while the medication is leaving the system. Chemical dependency versus substance abuse can be further clarified by looking at the body’s need for the substance. An individual that suffers from a substance use disorder will obsess about the drug long after it has detoxed out of their system. An individual that does not suffer from a substance use disorder is able to proceed with their life and never even think about the medication again. By John Hopkins Hospital.
Abuse of drugs & alcohol
“Not everyone who abuses alcohol and drugs is addicted and not every addict abuses alcohol and drugs.”
A person who is not chemically dependent or addicted still has the ability to abstain or control their alcohol and drug use.
In today’s society, especially here in Ireland, alcohol use has progressed from alcohol misuse to alcohol abuse. Binge drinking has become an accepted norm and it is a regular occurrence to see young people extremely intoxicated, even early on, on a Saturday night. This puts huge pressure on services, especially Accident & Emergency or ER.
The drinking pattern has changed to stronger drinks, faster, in a shorter period of time. Drinks like “Shots”, alcopops, mixing drinks, and even drinking illicit drinks.
Every autumn when the school kid’s get their exam results, there is a huge pilgrimage to the pubs and night clubs. The scary thing is that most of them are underage. There have been a few fatalities due to alcohol poisoning, seizure fits, falls. This “Binge Culture” continues through to the colleges and universities. Scary stuff.
The debate is still out on whether addiction is a disease or just a habit dysfunction. Now both arguments have their points as yes the behavior of addiction could easily be related to a habit, and if you do anything for long enough, 66 days, it will become a habit. Habits though can be changed, but addiction is much harder to change or break, especially if there is a chemical involved, like alcohol, drugs, and nicotine, but also some addictive behaviors like gambling, pornography and even eating disorders, if where only just habits, could easily be broken, but they can’t.
If you would like to read more on this, then Journey Pure at The River: has this article on habits vs addiction.
Now I know in this article, I have painted a bleak picture of alcohol and drug use and abuse, but it is at an epidemic level and the knock-on effect amongst society is frightening. However, not every drinker and drug user are abusers and still a majority of the people who drink, drink socially and there are many recreational drug users who can control their consumption and use. Alcohol has a very social element and it has been used forever as a celebration of life. All things in moderation.
This has been a long article and it is open to interpretation as everyone will have a different opinion on this subject, and that’s okay too. Just as I close, when people ask me just what is an addiction, I say it is like a witches cauldron, with everything thrown in, physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, social, cultural, and mixed together.
Thank you for reading my article, please leave a comment and even you own opinion on the subject.