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What Causes Addiction

A primary focus of this blog has been to reduce the stigma of addiction by recognizing that those struggling with a substance abuse disorder do NOT have a moral character failing, nor are they weak-willed. Instead, addiction is a chronic relapsing brain disease that can affect any person DESPITE their character or will. In fact, ANY person who tries an addictive substance (i.e., alcohol, benzodiazepines, heroin, etc.) can develop an addiction because the addictive substances themselves change the brain. So, if we are all vulnerable, what makes some people become addicted and others not?

According to scientific research, the root causes of addiction are complex and vary amongst individuals. Many factors, such as one’s genetics, environment, and development, can influence someone’s particular risk of becoming addicted.[1] To best be an advocate for those struggling with addiction, we must move out of ignorance and gain a deeper understanding of the underlying factors that make someone vulnerable to this disease.

Genetics: genetic predisposition, including having a family history of addiction, plays a large role, as it accounts for 50-75% of addiction.

Environment: risk factors of developing an addiction include growing up in a home where adults use drugs or engage in illegal behaviors.

Development: presence of a co-occurring mental health disorder or trauma can influence one’s desire to self medicate with drugs and alcohol. Additionally, if use begins earlier in life while the brain is still developing, the chance of becoming addicted is increased.

Considering these complexities, it is simplistic and unfair to blame and shame someone for their struggle with addiction. Rather, we should look at them with compassion and understanding for the various factors, many outside of their control, that have contributed to their disease. Better understanding of these risk factors can help prevent addiction and offer more informed treatment for those who are ready to recover, which will be the focus of our next blog.

[1] The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. Addiction Risk Factors.

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