What causes addiction?
There isn’t one specific thing that causes addiction. It’s usually a combination of genetics, mental health and environment. Addiction also has a lot to do with how an individual copes with life and how they deal with stress. Some people are more resilient than others, this is possibly down to genetics but can also be influenced by the environment, upbringing etc.
Addiction and relapse are closely related. Once someone is addicted, they can struggle to avoid relapse. Life can be a constant struggle, like walking a tight rope between functioning and giving in to their addiction. It can affect anyone, rich and poor, male or female. Many celebrities have struggles with addiction: Demi Lovato, Kelly Osbourne, Angelina Jolie, Robert Downey Jr, Adele, Drew Barrymore and Antony Hopkins are among them.
Addiction often results from negative feelings, feeling lonely, excluded, anxious, not good enough and so on. When an individual struggles to cope with their negative feelings, alcohol/drugs/gambling etc offers an escape – a way to numb the uncomfortable feelings. Addiction results from a feeling of loss and lack.
Addiction ruins lives, it is a short term solution that creates long term problems.
Who is more susceptible to addiction?
People who lack problem solving skills and catastrophise could be more susceptible than those that can be flexible in their thinking and ‘buffer’ themselves from the nastiness of life.
Individuals with naturally low levels of dopamine are susceptible to substance abuse because drugs and alcohol cause an abnormally large surge in dopamine levels, activating the pleasure response. As a substance abuser continues to take the drug, the brain will become exhausted by the surges of dopamine and begin producing less and less of its own as a result. This chemical response to the drug being repeatedly introduced into the body produces physical dependency on the drug due to the now exacerbated dopamine deficiency.
Similarly, serotonin deficiency—linked to depression, anxiety, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder—has recently been found to also pose risk for addiction. In particular, ethanol, cannabinoids, opioids, and psychostimulants have been used by many to “self-medicate,” raising the previously low levels of serotonin in the body at the risk of physical dependence.
The Rat Park experiment highlighted the context in which drug addiction was more likely. A lonely rat placed in a cage with no stimulation was far more likely to become addicted to a drug than a rat in a cage with other rats and amusements. See the video below:
It’s vital to treat the underlying cause that led the individual to try to escape in the first place. Cognitive behavioural therapy can help an addict to reframe their negative unhelpful thoughts and help them to become more resilient mentally. Self destructive behaviour needs to be looked at and a positive reward system can help to maintain positive progress and prevent relapse.
Addicts need to be treated with compassion and understanding. Addiction does not occur in a vacuum. Knowing how to withstand the pressures of life and exercise mental resilience is key in fighting addiction.
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