Addiction is officially defined as a “chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences” by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). When an individual suffers from addiction, the substance takes over their life in a way that forces them to indulge in it to feel normal.
Once the line is crossed from casual substance use to addiction, the individual will continue to abuse substances despite the knowledge that what they are doing is harmful to themselves and possibly to others. However, through drug rehabilitation and addiction treatment, recovery is possible.
How do people become addicted?
Initially, substance use is voluntary. Many who become addicted once participated casually, say, using once a week. Eventually, as substance use becomes more common, moving from using once a week to once a day, the individual’s decision making becomes impaired.
As substance abuse continues, tolerance increases leading the individual to use more and more to feel normal — all while their brain is dealing with the adverse effects of the drugs on its transmitters. Rather than a conscious decision, drug use becomes a craving, a necessity. Once the individual is physically unable to abstain from partaking in illicit activity, they are considered addicted.
Why do people take drugs in the first place?
You might ask, if the pathway to addiction is so straightforward, why do people take drugs in the first place? Each person’s specific reason for using is unique to them, but in general, the “why” can fall under one or more of these four categories.
To feel good: upon ingestion of drugs, the user will experience a high — an intense feeling of pleasure or enjoyment that differs based on the substance that is used. This feeling of euphoria can range from power and confidence to relaxation and calm.
To feel better: depending on the user, drugs can contribute to destressing and/or calming any anxiety or lifting depression the user feels in certain situations. For this reason, when feelings of stress, anxiety or depression arise during later treatment, those who used initially to diverge from these feelings are more susceptible to relapse than others.
To do better: feelings of inadequacy in sports or school may lead some to use substances in order to improve their performance. Some stimulants can help increase focus or strength in certain academic and athletic activities. This type of use is usually due to the pressure put on individuals to perform in these situations.
Curiosity and social pressure: teens are most susceptible to this kind of pressure because they are more likely to behave in ways that are not necessarily in their best interest, i.e. taking risks, claiming independence from their parents, or impressing others. Peer pressure also plays a role, as alcohol and drugs can be abundant at high school parties as well as even on school grounds in some situations.
Who is most susceptible to addiction?
Every individual’s likelihood of developing addiction depends on a certain set of risk factors that are dependent on their childhood, biology, environment and more. Although these risk factors are not foolproof, they are a good guideline as to who is in most danger of becoming addicted should they choose to indulge in substance use frequently.
For every specific risk factor there is also a protective factor that acts as an indicator that the individual will be less likely to develop an addiction. Risk factors include:
A lack of parental supervision at a young age
Growing up in neighborhood poverty
Aggressive childhood behavior and the availability of drugs at school and in the home throughout childhood
In contrast, protective factors include parental supervision and the presence of good role models from a young age, neighborhood resources, good self-control and success in school. While most of these are external factors, internal factors such as genetics can also indicate who is at higher risk of developing addiction.
Genetics of Addiction
If an individual’s biological family has a history of addiction and/or drug related issues, they are automatically more at risk than an individual whose family does not have said history. According to NIDA, epigenetics is a 40-60% indicator that an individual will become addicted. Other genetic factors such as gender and even ethnicity can also indicate risk. Additionally, a familial history of mental health issues is suggestive of addiction.
Environment of Addiction
The environment an individual grows up in also plays a large part in their susceptibility to addiction. Being around family members who misuse and/or who are constantly in trouble with the law is conducive of later addiction. And, teens have the ability to sway those without initial risk factors into early use at school, especially if drugs are readily available. Early drug use is another risk factor that affects both those who grew up in stable environments and those who did not.
In addition to one’s environment, the actual means in which the drug is taken can accelerate addiction. Substances that are smoked or injected directly into the bloodstream reach the brain faster — although the high is nearly immediate, it subsides quickly, leading the user to desire more of the substance nearly every time they use.
If you or a loved one is suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, you are not alone. Desert Recovery has helped countless individuals begin a life of health, happiness, and sobriety. A compassionate, caring addiction expert is waiting for your call today.