What Is Addiction?
Across the U.S., millions of people struggle with some form of substance addiction.
If you or your loved one are affected by drug or alcohol problems, having accurate information is vitally important. This includes information on the underlying causes of serious substance problems.
Experts define addiction as a type of brain disease.
Unlike some kinds of illnesses, this disease is chronic. That means that addicted people do not have short-term problems that disappear after a brief period of time.
Instead, they have long-term problems that must be dealt with over extended periods.
Here is a closer look at the underlying reasons for addiction’s chronic nature.
Reasons for Drinking or Taking Drugs
Understanding how addiction happens helps to understand why the average person starts drinking or taking drugs.
The truth is, there is no one answer to this question.
On the contrary, adults and younger individuals may have multiple reasons for becoming substance users.
Things that may motivate you or someone you know to start abusing drugs or alcohol include:
- Pressure from a friend, someone else you know, or society in general
- An urge to feel better
- A desire to avoid feeling bad
- An interest in what it feels like to be drunk or high
- A belief that substance use will improve your performance at work
- A belief that your substance use will help you do better in class
- The wish to enhance athletic performance
Some people start abusing drugs or alcohol because someone else makes them. However, this is usually not the case.
Instead, most people act of their own free will. Why would they do such a thing? It is most likely because they underestimate the possibility of getting addicted or experiencing other kinds of substance abuse problems.
Peer pressure is an especially significant influence on teenagers. This makes sense for several reasons.
First, adolescence is a time of newfound freedom for most teens. That includes the freedom to start making their own decisions.
At the same time, teenagers have not fully developed their ability to think in logical terms. They also have not developed full control over their impulses.
Together, these factors help make peer influence a potent source of social pressure for teens.
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How Does Addiction Develop?
When you drink or take drugs, you change the amounts of chemicals produced inside your brain.
One of the most important changes involves a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine plays a significant role in your health. One of its biggest jobs is making it possible for you to feel pleasure. The greater the amount of this chemical in your brain, the more pleasure you feel.
Your brain can cope with changes in its dopamine levels up to a certain point.
For example, that is what happens when you eat your favorite foods. Your brain produces a bit more dopamine, then returns to normal when levels of the chemical drop back down.
However, compared to everyday activities, drugs and alcohol trigger massive increases in your dopamine levels.
If you do not use a substance repeatedly, your brain has time to process these increases.
The situation changes if you keep drinking or taking drugs. If you do this, your brain will start to treat high dopamine levels as a normal situation.
This shift in your brain’s expectations is the gateway between voluntary and involuntary substance use.
When this shift happens, you can no longer drink or get high just because you want to. Instead, you will feel a pressing need to do so.
Part of this need is physical. However, if you are affected by alcohol or drug addiction, you also have a psychological need for substance use.
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Do Specific Ingredients Make Drugs and Alcohol Addictive?
How do drugs and alcohol boost your dopamine levels and trigger addiction?
Do specific ingredients or chemicals in these substances cause the problem?
No, there is no single chemical responsible for addiction-related issues.
On a chemical level, alcohol and drugs are very different and do not share all of their ingredients.
The most important thing is what drugs and alcohol do, not how they do it.
No matter how these substances reach your brain, they all have the same basic effect on dopamine output.
Every year, researchers learn more and more about the details of how addictive substances work.
The main point is that involvement in drug or alcohol abuse can lead to major, lasting problems.
Are You At-Risk for Substance Use Problems?
Research shows that not everyone has the same chance of becoming addicted.
A range of known factors can increase your risks. These factors include:
- The presence of depression or other mental illnesses
- An unstable environment at home
- Starting to use drugs or alcohol when you are a child or adolescent
- Having a family history of serious substance problems
- Difficulties at work or in the classroom
- Growing up in places heavily affected by poverty
- Living in places where drug or alcohol use is widely accepted
- A lack of parental oversight while growing up
- Poor socialization skills
- Being friends with people who accept substance use as the norm
- The method you use to take a drug (i.e., injecting a drug rather than snorting it)
The single most significant factor is your family background. In fact, more than half of your risk can come from genetic influences.
It is important to note that having risks for substance problems does not mean you will get addicted. However, it does mean that your odds of experiencing problems are generally higher.
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Substance Use Problems and Mental Illness
Addiction and mental illness are closely linked to health issues.
Research clearly shows that large numbers of people with substance problems have a mental illness.
It also shows that the same connection works in reverse. In other words, if you have a mental illness, you have higher chances of developing a substance use disorder.
When they affect you at the same time, addiction and mental illness are known as dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder.
Dual diagnosis is a serious concern for a couple of reasons. The condition can intensify your drug or alcohol problems. Its presence can also heighten your mental health problems.
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Treating the Causes of Addiction
As we have seen, substance problems are a major issue in America.
Fortunately, you can get treatment for these problems.
Modern substance rehab is not based on guessing or wishful thinking. Instead, all quality addiction treatment relies on proven techniques backed by solid evidence.
For one reason or another, a large percentage of people with serious substance problems never seek professional help. This means they never take full advantage of the resources available to them.
Just by actively searching for a treatment program, you put yourself on the road to abstinence and a substance-free lifestyle.
Today, there are treatments for every form of addiction.
Whether you are struggling with alcohol or drugs, you have options that will help you recover.
You also have workable options for recovering from dual diagnosis.
Common treatments for these problems include a variety of medications. They also have numerous types of behavioral psychotherapy.
When you seek out treatment, your doctor will devise a plan suited to your specific needs.
Depending on your situation, your plan may include medication, psychotherapy, or both of these options.
Your circumstances will also determine whether you enroll in an outpatient or inpatient program. Both types of programs produce positive results for many people who enter them.
Need more information on the causes and treatment of alcohol and drug addiction? Just contact the professionals at Pathfinders.
Our in-house specialists will answer any questions you may have.
We will also direct you to substance treatment programs that fit your short- and long-term recovery requirements.