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The Root Causes of Addiction: Understanding What Leads to Dependency

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Many people engage in potentially addictive behaviours, from experimenting with drugs or heavy drinking, to trying their hand at gambling or online gaming. While some are able to simply stop and move on, for others, these things become compulsive and dangerous to their overall wellbeing. Understanding what underlies addiction can help explain why.

“Why do people become addicts? What leads to addiction?” These essential questions are asked often by those struggling with an addiction disorder, those who love them, and those committed to helping treat dependency. Addiction is a complex, chronic condition that researchers, psychologists, and medical specialists are still in the process of understanding. Defined by compulsive behaviour despite negative consequences, addiction was long misunderstood as a problem with personal willpower or self-control. Studies now support a three-factor standard for vulnerability to drug addiction that includes genetic factors, environmental factors, and repeated exposure. 

Today, it’s widely accepted that addiction is a chronic disorder which is rarely attributed to only one cause. Knowing what causes addictive behaviour can help you assess your risk of developing addiction, or understand what may be driving a dependency.

What is the Cause of Addiction?

There are two main types of addiction: substance addiction and non-substance addictions. Substance addictions involve a psychological and sometimes physical dependency on a substance, such as prescription or illegal drugs, tobacco or alcohol. Non-substance addictions, also referred to as “behavioural addictions,” involve compulsive engagement in pleasurable activities, such as gambling, shopping, eating, sex, internet use, or gaming.

So why does someone become an addict? No single causal factor of either type of addiction has been identified, and researchers currently believe that the causes of addictive behaviour are the result of a complex interplay of a few key factors which include biological, psychological, social, environmental, and personal factors, as well as cultural and societal influences.  

Biological Causes of Addiction

The link between genetics and addiction remains a topic of strong debate. Reports have found that 40% to 60% of predisposition to addiction is a result of genetics, and that the children of individuals who suffer from addiction have a 25% greater likelihood to also develop an addiction when compared to the children of non-addicted parents. Researchers are actively searching for an addiction gene, but current studies suggest that familial trends towards addiction are more likely the result of environmental factors like exposure and normalisation of drug use.

Neurochemistry also plays a prominent role in addiction. Dopamine is a specific type of neurotransmitter well-known for its key role in the brain’s reward centre. Dopamine motivates us towards that which we perceive as pleasurable, increasing during both the anticipation of a reward and the actual receiving of one. The excitement about attending the concert of a favourite band, eating delicious food, or a first kiss all involve a rush of dopamine.

For those that have developed a substance use disorder or a behavioural addiction, it’s far more difficult to resist the urges that dopamine helps create. This is because the flow of dopamine in addiction is unnaturally increased, creating a stronger pull towards something and resulting in an even more potent “crash” when the object of the addiction is no longer available. Over time, this crash becomes withdrawal, a serious psychological and physical reaction caused by dependency. This process is what makes dopamine a critical factor in the development of addiction, and predicting addictive potential. The more dopamine that is released, the more likely it is that the activity or substance which stimulates that flow could become addictive.  

The interactions between certain substances, including prescription medications, can result in heightened levels of dopamine that can increase the potential for addiction. Consulting with a doctor before taking any new medications or supplements is an important step in preventing dependency.

Psychological Causes of Addiction

There are several psychological factors that can result in addiction. For example, those living with mental health conditions are often at increased risk for addiction as they may turn to substances or behaviours that help them cope with the discomfort of their symptoms. Anxiety, schizophrenia, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder have all been linked to a greater potential for addiction. This is especially true for those whose conditions are undiagnosed or untreated, as they do not have access to the specific treatment methods necessary to bring relief and support for their condition. This can lead to the development of co-occurring disorders, where someone has a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder at the same time. 

Personal factors related to addiction

While research doesn’t support the idea of an “addictive personality,” certain individual qualities seem to contribute to a greater potential for substance misuse or compulsive behaviours. Some personality traits have been associated with a greater risk for developing an addiction, and include:

  • Anxiety
  • Tendency towards sensation-seeking or risk-seeking behaviours
  • Nonconformity
  • Low tolerance to stress
  • Challenges in accepting blame

Additionally, individuals who have few coping mechanisms to rely on when faced with life’s challenges have a greater potential for addiction. Acute, early-life, and chronic stress have all been linked to a higher risk for addiction disorders, and have also been associated with the development of mood and anxiety disorders which can likewise contribute to the development of a substance or behavioural dependency. 

Finally, a significant amount of research that has explored the links between trauma and addiction has found that trauma, including Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), can be a contributing causal factor to addiction. This is true even for those who may not immediately identify their experiences as traumatic, or for those who have suppressed their traumatic memories. Trauma can cause a chronic disruption of the body’s stress regulation system, resulting in a variety of triggers that can make people feel hyper-alert, stressed, or anxious. This often leads to attempts to self-medicate trauma triggers with substances or behaviours that may feel soothing initially, but are ultimately destructive.

Social and Environmental Causes of Addiction

The Nature vs. Nurture argument is relevant to addiction as well. While genetic predisposition is considered an important causal factor despite not having been conclusively determined, the environment in which people were raised and currently live in has a broad and significant impact on their mental and physical well-being and therefore, is one of the major causes of addiction.

One of the environmental causes of drug addiction is if drug use is common in the home. This can cause an individual to become desensitised to it or normalise it as a way to have fun or cope with stress. Conversely, if children experience negative effects of drug use by a parent or guardian such as abuse, financial instability, or dysfunctional relationships, this may lead them to use substances as a coping mechanism.

Other factors like socioeconomic status have also been shown to factor into higher risks of addiction. While anyone, regardless of their background, can become addicted, poverty and homelessness can increase the risk of severe consequences of addiction like overdose. This is linked to the lack of resources needed to successfully treat and recover from an addiction. 

Peer networks can also influence addiction. If your friends or coworkers are participating in addictive behaviour, there may be subtle or overt pressure to join them in order to fit in with the group. For example, if you’re in a workplace where your colleagues regularly spend hours at the bar after work, this could reinforce problematic drinking habits. 

Cultural and societal attitudes and the development of addiction

Cultural and societal influences can also lead to addiction, as the normalisation of problematic behaviours can eventually result in a dependency. This can include, for example, the practice of binge drinking in order to celebrate events or accomplishments, or as a marker of adulthood. This is further reinforced by portrayals of substance use in the media or popular culture, which can glamourise alcohol and drugs as part of a party scene without showing the risks inherent in this behaviour. 

Conversely, cultural and societal stigma or discrimination against addiction disorders can prevent people from seeking help when they need it, and cause people to be afraid to disclose potentially problematic habits to a medical professional. This combination of social pressure and lack of access to helpful resources can result in greater numbers of addiction disorders. Discrimination against people based on their race, ethnicity, or other factors can also result in barriers to treatment for addiction.

Risk Factors for Addiction

A few key risk factors can increase the likelihood that an addiction will develop, along with the presence of other causal factors. For example, engaging in substance use or potentially addictive behaviours early in life greatly increases the risk that an addiction will develop in later years. 90% of people with substance use disorders began using substances as teenagers, highlighting the impacts of this behaviour on the developing brain.

As life progresses, and stress and pressure increase, this can also interact with causes of addiction to increase the risk of a dependency developing. Identifying your exposure to what leads to addiction, and the risk factors around those causes, can help you assess your potential for dependency and guide your decisions about whether or how to engage in potentially addictive behaviours.

Overcoming Addiction: Understanding the Benefits of Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient addiction treatment is an effective, intensive option for treatment for those ready to confront and overcome a substance use or behavioural addiction disorder. Inpatient treatment typically offers a range of treatment modalities onsite, such as individual therapy, group sessions, and wellness practices, as well as onsite medical assistance to address any urgent health needs. Inpatient treatment centres focus on creating a space that is completely removed from triggers and stressors, allowing people to concentrate on their recovery in a safe, supportive environment.

Therapy during inpatient treatment typically focuses on what are the causes of drug addiction or what are the causes of alcohol addiction. Once the client is aware of what is the cause of addiction, alternative patterns of thought and behaviour are raised and practised in a holistic manner, with a focus on establishing healthy habits for the mind and body. Stress management is a key component of addiction treatment, and learning healthy coping mechanisms is essential in building a sustainable, thriving recovery.

Treating the Cause and Effect of Addiction at The Dawn

The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab Thailand is the only CARF-accredited rehab facility in the Asia-Pacific region, a status shared with the top rehabs in America. We offer holistic addiction and co-occurring disorder treatment in a peaceful, supportive residential setting. The fundamental objective of our addiction programme is for clients to achieve and maintain long-term recovery by equipping each client with a personalised set of coping tools to use when dealing with life’s challenges. 

Drug and alcohol rehab  in Thailand

Our team is well-equipped to handle your recovery as we offer onsite detox supervised by professional medical staff. After detox is complete, clients will be ready to participate in our rehabilitation programme where substance use disorders along with other mental health issues will be addressed and treated.

The Dawn is conveniently located just outside the beautiful city of Chiang Mai, Thailand, a one-hour flight from the country’s capital of Bangkok. At our tranquil riverfront property, surrounded by picturesque rice fields and traditional Thai villages, you are completely removed from your triggers and immersed in a safe and soothing environment. 

Contact The Dawn today to learn more about how we can help you reclaim your life from addiction.

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