Understanding the Causes of Addiction

The causes of addictionOver the past decade, health research has made significant progress to correct former misconceptions about addiction. Historically, addiction was viewed as the outcome of moral failing or weakness. Today we recognize addiction as a chronic, relapsing disease, and continued research is exploring the factors that may cause addictions to form.

Addiction doesn’t discriminate by class, gender, age, or any other demographics. Substance abuse disorders affect people from all walks of life, and progression of those disorders can result in numerous health complications. But why do some people become addicts, and others don’t? Here is what research has uncovered about the causes of addiction.

Early predictors

Multiple factors contribute to substance abuse disorders, and no single factor has been identified as an immediate predictor. As researchers continue to study addiction, more evidence points to influences early in life that make someone more vulnerable to cycles of substance abuse.

Addictions develop from a combination of environment and genetics. Environmental factors include exposure to peer groups that encourage drug use and one’s family’s beliefs and attitudes toward drug use. Genetics can contribute to an addiction once substance abuse begins. According to the Mayo Clinic, likelihood of developing an addiction may be influenced by inherited traits—either speeding up or slowing down the progression of the disease. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that genes account for about half of a person’s risk of developing an addiction.

Role of risk factors

Along with environment and genetics, more specific risk factors have been recognized as trends among people who develop addictions. Risk factors are characteristics associated with higher likelihood of substance abuse. Common risk factors include the following attributes:

  • Family history: If someone comes from a family with history of substance abuse, they are at higher risk from genetic disposition.
  • Health of relationships: Youth who demonstrate aggressive behavior or poor self-control and struggle to develop positive peer relationships are more likely to misuse substances.
  • Mental health disorders: If someone is already struggling from a mental illness like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or bipolar disorder, they are more prone to use drugs as a coping mechanism—especially when mental health disorders are undiagnosed or not properly treated.
  • Peer pressure: If someone feels pressured to use drugs—especially at a young age, they will be more likely to abuse drugs by the influence of their peer groups.
  • Lack of family involvement: Insecure households, absence of parental figures, and lack of parental guidance can lead to using drugs as self-medication.
  • Use in adolescence: Early drug abuse while the brain is still developing will increase one’s odds of forming an addiction. Approximately 90% of Americans with a substance abuse disorder began smoking, drinking, or using drugs before the age of 18.

As an individual is exposed to more risk factors, he or she will be become increasingly susceptible to developing an addiction.

Prevention and treatment

To counter risk factors, protective factors can be helpful for prevention measures. The presence of multiple protective factors can lessen the influence of multiple risk factors. Consider the following protective factors:

  • Strong parental involvement and supervision
  • Perceived safety and protection within households and predictable family dynamics
  • Secure attachment to parents/guardians
  • Adequate socio-economic resources
  • High academic standards and engagement
  • School programs to reduce bullying
  • Clear expectations of behavior at school and home

As a chronic illness, addiction can’t be ultimately cured. Substance abuse disorders are common and typically recurrent, but they are treatable.

Do you know someone showing signs of a substance use disorder? Learn more about addiction treatment programs.