The age-old question about addiction is “what really causes someone to become addicted to alcohol or drugs?” Does it stem from the person's genetic makeup, or is it a result of their upbringing or social interactions? Is it a product of childhood trauma, or is there a spiritual component to it? The age-old dispute over nature vs. nurture is no longer as black-and-white as formerly thought, according to recent advances in psychological and biological studies.
In the field of addiction treatment, we have a common saying about the root of addiction: “genetics loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger.” Addiction is a holistic condition that affects everyone differently. There is never one single thing that can be pinpointed as causing the addiction.
The concept of "normal" and "abnormal" in a community is defined by the norms and standards that are established in that society. Therefore, an individual's addiction develops and can be influenced by external influences, according to this perspective.
This is also supported by the evidence. People who hang out with alcoholics and drug addicts are more inclined to engage in those behaviors. Addiction may be worsened by environmental variables such as parental influence, cultural standards, media portrayal, and learned behaviors.
The Influence of the Home Environment on Drug Addiction
Children, especially those who have been traumatized, are vulnerable to the effects of a stressful home environment. There is an increased risk of drug misuse among children whose families have experienced traumatic events such as domestic violence and/or physical or sexual abuse.
"Opiate users were 2.7 times more likely to have a history of childhood sexual and/or physical abuse than non-opiate users," according to research published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.
When Family Members Use Drugs or Alcohol
An increased risk for drug misuse exists if a family member uses drugs. Therefore, people who have relatives addicted to drugs are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol for recreation, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Research shows that a youngster who grows up in a home where drug or alcohol use are a regular way of life will be more likely take drugs or drink themselves.
Trauma and Addiction
Scientists at the University of Texas found that trauma may alter the brain’s chemistry. Disruptions were observed in certain brain networks, which indicated greater odds for drug use disorders and depression among teens mistreated or traumatized in childhood. These findings were published in the journal, Neuropsychopharmacology.
Addiction risk variables are strongly influenced by parenting style or poor parenting methods. Peer pressure to drink or use drugs is easier to instill in children whose parents are extremely authoritarian or who do not display love but place high expectations on their offspring. On the other hand, parents who are too indulgent or provide little structure or discipline can lead a child to experiment with drugs as well.
The Impact of Certain Childhood Events
Early childhood events have been found to have a major effect on addictive behavior. In the development of subsequent mental health issues, drug abuse, family dynamics, parenting styles, and degrees of supervision have a critical impact. Stress management skills are also formed early in life.
These methods may lead to dangerous or self-destructive conduct if addictive behaviors are used to cope (because of the innate drive to survive in the face of adversity). During adolescence or adulthood, this implies that external circumstances activate these internal triggers. Exposure to physical/emotional/sexual abuse and divorce has been linked to an increased risk of developing drug misuse issues in adulthood.
The Impact of Social Influences
Associating with people who show use alcohol or drugs is a part of many people's social lives. If these behaviors are adopted, then trying to break away from this pattern may be challenging. Addiction may be maintained by a strong sense of belonging and a sense of connection to other addicted individuals.
Evidence also suggests that those with more permissive and less critical attitudes of drug use are more likely to take part in drinking or addictive activities.
The physical environment may also be a source of many triggers for those with addictions. It's possible to link certain social gatherings, such as "after-work drinks" at a bar, with habits, just as easily as eating in your kitchen or on the couch when you’re at home. When a behavior is practiced repeatedly, it can become ingrained in the mind, making it difficult to stop the activity.
Local Venues in a Community
A person's surroundings have long been proven to influence relapse and addiction. Young people are especially sensitive to the effects of their environment. Research in the Archives of Psychiatry conclude that "family environmental variables impacted the use in early adolescence of nicotine, alcohol, and cannabis."
Home, the workplace, school, your neighborhood, and social activities are examples of environments where you can become exposed to drug and alcohol abuse. This is especially true if you live somewhere the substances are accessible and tolerated.
About the Author
Scott H. Silverman has been fighting against addiction for almost 40 years. He is the author of The Opioid Epidemic and the CEO of Confidential Recovery, an outpatient rehab in San Diego