How (and why) Does Addiction Develop?

Treatment for addiction is never entirely straightforward, particularly because the reasons that influence addiction are never straightforward. It’s a twisty and complicated path from the get-go. Some people respond better to cognitive behavioral therapy because of issues with their self-esteem, a history of acquired or existing anxiety and depression, and a general uneasiness with themselves and a loathing attitude towards life in general.

Others respond better to dialectic behavioral therapy because it allows them to scratch the itch of rebellion without resorting to self-destructive methods, and teaches them restraint in a different, applicable way. Some love group therapy and work wonderfully with others – and there are some people who prefer specialized, single therapy and outpatient programs that focus on catering to introverted tendencies.

It goes on and on. Yet at the heart of figuring out the best way to get sober and stay sober, is finding out why someone gets addicted in the first place – and there are many, many answers to that question. But first, the most pressing one; and an important clarification.

Yes, Anyone Can Get Addicted

It’s true that there are risk factors and protective factors that, on average, mean someone is more likely or less likely to develop an addiction. However, that doesn’t change the fundamental truth that anyone, regardless of where they are in life, has the potential to develop an addiction.

All it takes is a small series of choices within a relatively short period of time fueled by a powerful source of stress and the right circumstances, and you can be sliding down the slippery slope of addiction. That might sound like a rarity, and you’d be correct: across the entire world, about 27 million people are “problem drug users,” or “high-risk drug users,” defined by “recurrent drug use that is causing actual harms,” or placing a person at risk of such harm.

That’s about 0.38 percent of our world population. Since we’re currently at 7 billion inhabitants, even a quarter percent is a sizeable amount of people. In that quarter percent, you’ll find men, women, children, adults, teachers, criminals, judges, politicians, celebrities, and people of all walks of life. But every person struggling with addiction, there’s a story, and a reason.

Exploring The Risk Factors

Addiction doesn’t occur in a vacuum – it takes a village to drive someone down the path of addiction, bit by bit. Teenagers are most vulnerable because they’re in a self-identifying point in their lives while being prone to short-term thinking and unwise decision making. However, there’s more to it than age. Gender also plays a role. Women and men generally share the same chances of getting addicted (although this is debatable), although there are physiological issues that make women more susceptible to addictive substances, and subsequent relapses.

Another carryover is mental health – mood disorders and symptoms of anxiety are often related to addiction, to the point where about a fifth of Americans with depression also have a substance abuse problem.

Beyond the physical and mental connections that are to be made, there are socio-economic, familial and cultural issues, as well. Peer pressure in groups where drug use is normalized without proper risk education, living in an abusive or neglecting household, having a family history of addiction, suffering a major mental trauma at an earlier age – these are all common factors in addiction.

Teenagers with overly strict parents growing up in extremely controlled environments with no freedoms of their own are often also attracted to drugs as an ultimate taboo, a way to declare independence despite its consequences.

This doesn’t mean addiction is limited to “troubled teens” – in fact, because of the widespread use of opioids in medication used to treat chronic pain, many people are developing new addictions at a much older age. For others, addiction may be just one major tragedy or life-changing event away.

The Role Of Self-Control

Some argue that it’s harmful to tell people struggling with addiction that they’re powerless to the power of drugs. However, telling them that addiction is nothing more than a matter of self-control and a sign of weak morals or a lack of personal responsibility is just as damning and counter effective.

Addiction is addiction – if it does happen to you, then simple logic and a cursory look over the risk factors will tell you that it’s not something most people plan for or anticipate. Choosing to explain how an addiction most likely began isn’t “pushing the blame on others,” but going to the root of what is basically a mental illness. Just like how depression and anxiety are very real psychological issues that aren’t fixed with a pat on the back and an enthusiastic “suck it up, buttercup,” addiction isn’t dealt with by telling people to “man up.”

Self-control plays no part in addiction because when a person gets addicted, it’s within a setting where self-control no longer plays a role. About 250 million people have taken illicit drugs at some point in 2013. Only about 27 million were addicted. These cases of addiction began and developed through peer pressure, through genetic misfortune, through an environment where using drugs regularly was a convenient outlet for serious traumas and personal difficulties, or part and parcel of belonging to a social group.

Help is one of the primary factors of recovering from that situation. Only one in six people struggling with addiction sought and found treatment, and one of the keys to beating addiction is creating more opportunities to seek help, while also addressing the issue of addiction and drug use in society in a helpful manner.

Know Thyself

Philosophical implications aside, addiction recovery can’t successfully take place without first understanding addiction. Whether you come to a complete understanding of your addiction alone, or through research, what matters is that you understand why we get addicted the way we do, and in turn why you might’ve gotten addicted.

Learning more about addiction is just part and parcel of learning more about yourself – and ultimately, that makes it important in the journey to learning how to be happy with yourself. And being happy with yourself is a prerequisite to long-term sobriety. Honesty and self-love are key because they fortify you mentally and emotionally against relapses in the future, by solidifying the thought that it’s worth staying sober and enjoying a fulfilling and fun life.

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