Addiction is a progressive and fatal disease that currently plagues over 23 million Americans. With no discrimination, addiction affects people across all lines of race, economic bracket, religion, age, gender, intelligence, and geographical location. As addiction continues to devastate the lives of addicts and their loved ones, there is often a lingering question about how addiction starts, and why some people become addicted while others do not. There is no pattern or guarantee that any one person will become addicted while others do not. The best way of determining why some people become addicted is to look at a combination of genetics, environment, past traumas, and mental health.

Role of Genetics in Addiction

According to the National Institute of Health, as much as half of an individual’s chance of becoming addicted depends on his or her genes. While the DNA sequences of any two individuals are 99.9% identical, the 0.01% of DNA contains the code that makes each individual unique, and plays a significant role in determining who is more susceptible to addiction, among other illness and ailments. A new study called genome-wide association study (GWAS), can identify subtle variations in DNA sequences that are common among all subjects with a particular disease, such as addiction. While this study is still in early stages, it has proven to be very effective in isolating the genes that may be responsible for, or contributing to one’s susceptibility to disease.

Genetics are not entirely responsible for addiction, just as one who may be genetically inclined to become addicted is not necessarily going to become an addict. There are many other factors involved in determining one’s potential for addiction.

Role of Environment in Addiction

Environment is everything that surrounds an individual, from his or her neighborhood, to co-workers or peers, friends, and family. On its own, one or more factors of environment can be the determining factor in whether or not an individual becomes addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. Some examples of environments that can strongly influence an individual’s risk of addiction are as follows:

  • Neighborhood
  • Work Environment
  • Friends
  • Family

It is important to note that one’s environment is not the only factor involved in determining whether or not addiction will become a problem, but it is not uncommon for the influence of one’s environment to play an important role. When someone is surrounded by negative influences, the chances for him or her to fall victim to them is greatly increased, so it becomes crucial for a strong foundation on the right path in order to resist the negative influences that can be a catalyst for addiction.

Role of Past Trauma in Addiction

Most individuals suffer from a traumatic event at some point in their lives, and this is especially true for addicts. Some types of trauma one may experience are:

Loss of a loved one Abuse Failed relationships
Serious injury Surgery Neglect
Military service Natural disaster Illness

Often, when an individual experiences some form of trauma in life, it can result in devastating consequences that can affect self-esteem, ability to trust, communication, self-image, and overall perceptions in life. When issues are not addressed and reconciled, whether one is the victim or perpetrator of a misdeed, the negative feelings associated with it are usually internalized, which leads to destructive behaviors, namely drug and alcohol abuse. An overwhelming percentage of drug addicts and alcoholics suffer from some form of trauma that acts as a catalyst and/or contributor to the addiction cycle.  Even when there has been no misdeed, and someone simply suffers physical pain from injury, illness, or surgery, drugs and alcohol are commonly used for relief.

It is important to note that not all traumas are considered equal, and what constitutes trauma for one person may have little effect on another. Trauma is reliant on the individual, his or her sensitivity to the event, and available coping mechanisms to get through hard times in life. Without resources like communication skills, awareness, self-esteem, and supportive environments and people, hard times can prove to be the conduit for drug and alcohol addiction in many lives.

Role of Mental Health in Addiction

Those who suffer from mental health issues like bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, ADHD, impulse control disorders, and other personality disorders are at an increased risk for addiction for two main reasons:

  1. Many people who suffer from these various mental health disorders are aware of their condition, and are under the care of a psychiatrist who likely prescribes them medication to regulate the imbalances in their brains. All such medications are mind/mood altering to some extent, therefore creating an environment within the individual that is conducive to mood altering substances. It is not uncommon for those who are already under the influence of these drugs to abuse them, or seek out other drugs for different, or more intense effects.
  2. Others who suffer from mental health disorders may not be under medical care for any of several reasons. They may not have an official diagnosis, they may not be able to afford care, or they may refuse medical care. Often, these situations result in an individual making the choice to self-medicate with illicit or illegally acquired drugs. Self-medication is the primary cause for drug and alcohol abuse among those who suffer from mental health issues, and often exacerbates the original issue.

Cycle of Addiction

The cycle of addiction plays the most important role in answering the question of why addicts cannot stop their addiction on their own. Addiction sustains itself and progresses on a psychological level, which is further exacerbated by emotional trauma and deep-rooted issues within the addicted individual. There have been many theories about why addiction is so powerful and difficult to overcome. While the way in which addiction starts is entirely dependent on the individual, science has provided answers about how addiction progresses once drugs and alcohol have been abused.

Psychological Addiction Cycle

Science has shown how drug and alcohol abuse can lead to a psychological dependence (addiction) in an individual. The superhighway of information, otherwise known as the brain, maintains a delicate balance of stimulators and inhibitors to moderate human emotion, behavior, and sensations of pain and pleasure. When drugs and alcohol are introduced, this system of balance is temporarily altered, which is what produces the high associated with drug use, like abnormal sensations of pleasure, depression, euphoria, and excitement. As drug and alcohol use continues and increases, the brain responds in two critical ways:

  • Balance
    Most drugs of abuse produce abnormally high levels of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which stimulates the reward center of the brain. When the reward center is stimulated, the brain receives a message that the causal action for the reward is good and life sustaining, thereby reinforcing repetition of the behavior. This is the same mechanism at work during feelings of pleasure during sex or eating food, both of which are imperative for the continuation of the human species and its survival. This is why it is a part of human nature to seek reward and pleasure. However, when the brain receives more dopamine than it can naturally produce, the response is to slow down the natural production of dopamine to create balance. Unfortunately, this has a two-sided effect, both of which feed the cycle of addiction.

    1. Since the brain interprets the stimulation of the reward center as a good thing, repetition of the causal behavior is reinforced, which prompts cravings to use drugs and alcohol again.
    2. Since the brain is producing less dopamine naturally and is craving the abnormally high levels of stimulation provided by the drugs and/or alcohol, sufficient levels of dopamine to produce the desired stimulation must continue to come from the drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Tolerance
    As it is defined, tolerance is the act of enduring or resisting the action of a drug. As more drugs and/or alcohol are consumed, the brain builds a tolerance to their effects. For example, the first time an individual uses heroin, he or she will likely be too high to walk, speak, perform basic motor functions, and operate on a level that appears to be normal in any way. However, as this individual continues to use the same amount of heroin, he or she will begin to function on a more normal level, speaking clearly, walking straight, and able to perform more complicated tasks. The reason for this is tolerance. The brain endures the action of the heroin, and adjusts to be able to function normally despite the effects of the drug. This also results in lower dopamine levels stimulating the reward system, which prompts higher doses to produce the desired effect. When dosage increases, the individual will experience a period of euphoria similar to the first dose, but the brain quickly adapts (or tolerates) the increased amount of heroin, and prompts an even higher dosage, and so the cycle continues until the addict gets help for his or her addiction.

This cycle of psychological addiction is very dangerous, as the inevitable result is an addict taking larger amounts and more frequent doses of drugs and/or alcohol, which brings him or her closer to overdose and possible death with each passing day.

Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one are suffering from addiction, there is help in many forms, locations, modalities, and therapies tailored to individuals of every demographic, preference, lifestyle, and spiritual belief. The process of researching all of the options to determine the best choice can be very daunting, and result in an addict attending an addiction treatment center that is not right for him or her. At, we understand how difficult it is to endure addiction, and when it is time to find help, there is no time to waste on searching aimlessly through dozens of options that are not the answer. Call us now and speak with a trained counselor who will listen to your situation and concerns, speak with you about the best types of treatment for the addicted individual, and go through the options with you, so you can make an educated decision about how to begin the road to recovery with the best chances for sustained sobriety.

You don’t have to suffer alone, and addiction does not have to take another life. Effective addiction treatment is available and countless addicts have received the help they so desperately need to find their own path to life-long sobriety and happiness. Call us now to find the best options to recovery for yourself or your addicted loved one. We are here to help.