Why Are Some People More Prone to Addiction Than Others?

Addiction is a complex disorder that may have many origins. Research suggests there’s no one path to addiction, and biological, social, economic, and environmental factors all play a part. While no one is immune to substance abuse – at The Treatment Center, we help people from all walks of life recover – but some may be more likely to abuse substances than others are. Why are some people more prone to addiction?

Not long ago, scientists believed there was a specific biological predisposition to addiction – a so-called “addiction gene.” From a broad perspective, it made sense, especially considering how often children of those with addictions become dependent themselves. After years of studying addiction and coding our genes, scientists have yet to pinpoint a genetic component that predisposes someone to addiction. What they’ve discovered is the complexity of dependency and a web of risk factors. The more of these risk factors you have, the more likely you are to struggle with substance abuse.

An Addictive Personality

Though there might not be a specific gene that causes addiction, most specialists believe some people have addictive personalities. As much as 10% to 15% of the U.S. population has an addictive personality, characterized by sensation seeking, impulsive behavior, social alienation, and nonconformity. While you or someone you know might have one or two of these traits, it’s not necessarily indicative of an addictive personality. The more of these traits you have, though, the more likely you are to have an addictive personality.

Childhood Trauma

One of the biggest reasons people are more prone to addiction is the presence of childhood trauma. According to the American Psychological Association, over two-thirds of children experience a traumatic event by age 16. Trauma can be physical, sexual, emotional, or mental, and it may affect the individual or the community. Social factors such as poverty and economic status can increase the risk of exposure to trauma, as can race, gender, and ethnicity.

A landmark study by Dr. Gabor Mate found a male child who has experienced at least six traumatic events is 4,600% more likely to abuse substances than a male child with none. Scientists believe our childhood experiences affect our brain chemistry and create more vulnerability to substance abuse and addiction.

Psychological And Physical Pain

Addicts Without Treatment Statistic InfographicThe side effects of emotional trauma and pain can affect children well into adolescence and adulthood. Trauma of any kind can lead to depression, anxiety, insomnia, helplessness, or feelings of isolation. These factors increase the risk for developing substance abuse, especially when they occur together.

Dual Diagnosis

When a patient has two separate but concurrent conditions, we refer to it as “dual diagnosis.” For example, a person may suffer from addiction and depression or addiction and bipolar disorder. From the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) research, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, there were nearly 8 million people living in the United States with a co-occurring disorder in 2014. People with a mental health diagnosis are more likely to struggle with addiction, more likely to experience homelessness, and more likely to end up in jail instead of a treatment facility.

Age Of First Encounter With Drugs Or Alcohol

Early exposure to drugs or alcohol can make teenagers more prone to addiction later in life. According to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, association with drug-using peers and a lack of parental monitoring can have a profound effect on a teenager’s future. Since the brain is still developing in adolescence, experimenting with drugs, alcohol, or other illicit substances can have long-lasting repercussions.

Teenagers lack the normal inhibitions of a fully mature adult brain, which makes them more likely to act impulsively. Experimenting with substances during this time makes teens more likely to develop long-term substance abuse problems. According to the National Institute on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, nearly 40% of people who have their first drink before age 15 become alcoholics later in life. Further, social factors like lack of parental monitoring can create feelings of isolation or depression, which are also risk factors for substance abuse disorders.

Biological Factors And Genetics

Though we can’t conclusively point to an addiction gene, we do know through research that those with a family history of alcoholism or drug abuse are more likely to struggle themselves. Many genes may play a role in the development of substance abuse – for example, there are genes that dictate the way we react to different drugs, and genes that affect the way we experience pain or withdrawal. Just because you have a family history of substance abuse, it doesn’t mean you’re predestined to struggle with it yourself. It simply means your genetic makeup may put you at an increased risk.

Addiction Help At The Treatment Center

If you have these risk factors, you aren’t necessarily going to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. At the same time, a person may develop a substance abuse disorder with even one or two of the risk factors listed. The key lies in recognizing potentially addictive behaviors and seeking timely intervention.

Regardless of what drives someone to addiction, there is help. At The Treatment Center, recovery happens every day. Substance abuse arises from a complex web of risk factors, encompassing social, environmental, and biological aspects of a person’s life – and we consider those factors with our treatment options. Just like addiction doesn’t happen the same for every person, neither does recovery. Our holistic approach to treatment means, no matter what caused dependency in your life, we can help you overcome it.

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