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What are the Underlying Causes of Addiction?

Posted on July 3, 2020

What are the Underlying Causes of Addiction?

Addiction is not only a physical dependency on a substance but also a complex, psychological disease. There can be many different causes of addiction. Extensive research has proved that the brains of people suffering from addiction are fundamentally different from the brains of non-addicts.

This finding shows that addiction is not a ‘choice’ as some people believe, but a condition that results in changes in chemical compounds within the brain. Could addiction, therefore, be the same as other medical conditions, like diabetes or bipolar disorder?

Whatever the outlook, it is important to know the different causes in order to treat the root of the problem. Many addiction treatment programmes offer rehabilitation as well as detox, which often includes various types of therapy to understand the cause behind an addiction.

Although detox tackles the physical factors relating to substance abuse, therapy and counselling combat the underlying issues and catalysts of addiction. Without understanding the causes of addiction, true recovery is not possible.

How Does Addiction Occur

There are various reasons that a person might first turn to drugs or alcohol. These include:

  • Childhood abuse and trauma
  • Having family members with addiction problems
  • Pre-existing mental health conditions

After a person uses a drug for the first time, they can immediately develop a physical dependency as their brain begins to crave the euphoria and gets used to operating with the substance in the system. [1]

This can happen to anyone with time but happens faster in people predisposed to addiction. After brain functions changes, when it stops receiving the substance, a variety of negative side effects can occur, some of which can even be dangerous.

Addiction as a Changing Disease

Addiction is not a static disease, but rather it develops and changes with time; however, it can happen really quickly. Addiction usually starts out as an active choice, but with time can become a dependency that feels uncontrollable. There are generally five accepted stages of addiction, which you will find broken down below:

Stage 1

First use or experimentation is the first stage. This is the first time person voluntarily uses a drug, drinks alcohol, etc. It can also be the first time someone takes a prescribed medication that they end up becoming addicted to.

It is worth noting that experimentation or the first use of a substance does not always lead to the later stages of addiction.

Stage 2

Stage two is when one-time experimentation becomes regular use. Regular use still does not immediately mean addiction, but there is an increased chance of addiction developing.

Stage 3

Tolerance is the third stage of addiction. After the continued use of a drug or alcohol, the brain begins to develop tolerance and a person has to consume increased amounts in order to get the same effect. The building of tolerance is a warning sign and a symptom of addiction.

Stage 4

After tolerance comes dependency. There are two types of dependency: physical and psychological.

Physical dependence is when the user becomes physically ill anytime that they stop using a drug or drinking alcohol. Psychological dependency is the cravings and desires a person feels when they stop taking the drug or drinking alcohol.

Stage 5

The final stage of addiction is the actual addiction itself. This is when it is almost impossible for a person to stop using a substance on their own, even if they want to.

They may no longer get any positive effects and may be dealing with various different negative consequences.

Psychological Causes of Addiction

There are various theories that psychologists have posed for what the causes of addiction are. The first theory is that people first use drugs and drink excessive amounts of alcohol due to an abnormality, otherwise known as a mental illness.

Another theory is that people learn behaviour due to their environment. And the final theory is that when people have dysfunctional thoughts and feelings, it turns into unhealthy behaviours. Most people’s addictions are probably due to a combination of the three theories. [2]

Using drugs is not only a physical experience but also a psychological one due to the euphoria experienced. Throughout time people have debated whether or not there is a difference between dependency and addiction.

Most professionals seem to agree that while dependency is physical, addiction is a psychological problem that needs to be treated with therapy and support in order to achieve long term sobriety.

Understanding Mental Health and Addiction

When someone has an addiction and a mental health issue, they are called co-occurring disorders and are generally linked together. Sometimes one is a direct cause of the other, but most of the time, as one gets worse, so does the other one.

For this reason, it is important that when someone goes in for addiction treatment, they also work to treat and overcome any and all co-occurring disorders. So, what came first, substance abuse or mental illness?

The answer to this is not straightforward, as it depends on the person. Many people use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate a pre-existing mental health problem. They use the substance to alleviate the severity of various symptoms like intense anxiety, sadness, loneliness, depression, and mood swings. Unfortunately, as the effects wear off, the illness generally gets worse.

Others may start to drink or use a drug that increases the risk of developing underlying mental disorders like depression or anxiety. This has a greater chance of happening if they are already predisposed to mental illness. Even if the mental illness only develops after the addiction, it is still important to have both treated during rehab or other treatment programs. [3]

Family History & Substance Abuse

There are two main ways that family history can lead to a person developing an addiction. First of all, there is evidence that shows that your genetics can predispose you to develop an addiction. For this reason, people whose parents have addictions have to be extra careful to avoid even falling into stage one of addiction (experimentation.)

The other reason family history are the causes of addiction is that when children grow up around parents using drugs and alcohol, it can be normalized, and they are more likely to start using it at a younger age. They may also use drugs or alcohol to cope with trauma due to substance abuse in their home.

Trauma As a Cause of Addiction

When people deal with trauma, especially childhood trauma, it can be hard to cope unless they go to therapy and seek help. Often people with a history of trauma will turn to various substances, whether that be alcohol or drugs. The sense of euphoria that they get or the ability to blackout can give them relief from the emotions and memories that come with trauma.

Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol do not actually help the person deal with the trauma in the long run. It can lead to even more problems developing. Developing an addiction due to trauma means the individual will have to deal with both the physical addiction and the incident itself.

Substance Abuse & Self Esteem

When someone has low self-esteem, they may use drugs and alcohol for a few reasons. First, they may feel increased levels of confidence when they are under the influence. Unfortunately, that could lead to them partaking in more dangerous and risky activities that could result in them getting hurt or seriously injured. [4]

People who suffer from gender or sexual identity issues also tend to use drugs and alcohol to treat self-esteem issues if they do not know how to accept themselves or feel shamed by those in their life such as friends and family.

Is There A Genetic Link

Addiction is a disease that can be based down genetically, and it is 30 to 70 percent of the time. That means when someone’s family member struggles with the disease, you are two times more likely to develop an addiction than someone who does not have that genetic connection.

Your genes change how a substance interacts with your brain, meaning that your DNA and genetic makeup could be one of the causes of addiction. If the effects are stronger, you are more likely to develop dependency and addiction within the first few times you use the substance or even the very first time.

Environmental Factors of Addiction

  • Peer Pressure: if friends or other important people in a person’s lives are using drugs and alcohol, they are significantly more likely to partake in it themselves, especially if they are adolescents
  • Poor Parental Supervision: this mostly applies to teenagers, but a teen or child may be more likely to experiment in drugs or alcohol if their parents are not careful to supervise what they are doing, where they are going, and who they are hanging out with
  • Parental Drug Use: As stated above, if parents use drugs, a person is significantly more likely to use and develop an addiction
  • Presence of Drugs at Home, Work, or School: the more someone is exposed to drugs and alcohol, the more likely they are to use and develop an addiction
  • Living in a Poor Community: there tends to be more alcohol and drug addiction in poor communities, possibly due to the stress that can come with living in poverty

Addressing the Root Cause of Addiction

When a person goes into treatment, they have to look at the root cause of their addiction, and not simply treat the symptoms. Whether the treatment a person chooses is inpatient rehab, an outpatient rehab, or a support program like AA or NA, a person will have to dig deeper and figure out why they turned to the substance in the first place. [5]

After a person deals with that, they will be more able to achieve long term sobriety. For more information on substance abuse treatment, visit our alcohol rehab page or our drug detox pages where you will find specific advice and guidance tailored to you.

Take the first step today

If you’re wondering about addiction and are looking for more information, call us today on 0800 088 66 86.








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