What causes an addiction? - Drug Addiction
The causes of an addiction are many and include:
- Genetic tendency
- Peer pressure
- Addictive personality
Some of these are considered to be more controversial than others.
There is evidence to suggest that some people are more susceptible to developing an addiction although this is not conclusive. This doesn’t mean that the addiction is passed down in their family; rather that their biological make up is hard-wired in such a way that makes them more prone to dependency.
This is discussed in greater detail in our genetics and addiction section.
This is something which tends to affect young people rather than adults. Young people place a high value on what their friends think and do and are keen to ‘fit in’ with their peer group. If that group takes drugs, or smokes cigarettes or enjoys drinking then the pressure is there to do the same.
Learn more about this in our young people and addictions section.
Stress is blamed for many of the problems in our society. We live our lives at an increasingly frenetic pace, working longer hours to provide a decent standard of living without finding time to relax. Going for a few drinks after work is one way of relaxing as is taking drugs such as cocaine at parties.
This may initially, seem like a good way of coping with stress but once it becomes a regular habit then it is in danger of leading to addiction.
Find out more in our stress and addiction section.
This is a form of behaviour that is more commonly seen in teenagers and young people. Often seen as part of growing up or being part of the gang, experimentation with drink, drugs or smoking can result in addiction.
If you are part of a group of friends who are trying these substances then you are more than likely to do the same. But sometimes it only takes one puff of a cigarette or that first line of cocaine and you are hooked.
The sad fact is that this might never happen with a different group of friends and in different circumstances.
It has been suggested that there are people with certain personality traits which pre-dispose them towards addiction. These people are said to have an ‘addictive personality’ which means that they are more likely to turn to drugs, cigarettes or alcohol than other groups of people.
Is this true? It is not conclusive but there is evidence to suggest that this is the case.
This is discussed in greater detail as an individual section - the addictive personality.
Does our environment play in part in addiction or is it a means of excusing personal responsibility for our actions?
If you were brought up in a household in which your parents both smoke and drank heavily then there is a greater chance of you doing the same but it is not automatic that you will do so. Being exposed to addictive substances when young may explain a tendency to dependency in adulthood although there are people who avoid doing so.
Another related factor is a chaotic childhood and/or abuse. If you suffered abuse in your childhood, were neglected or conversely, treated very harshly then that is a strong trigger for addiction. In this situation alcohol or drugs provide a means of dealing with feelings of self-hate or alienation.
Drug addiction is a complex situation and involves more than one factor.
There are other contributing factors to addiction which include sensitivity; the type of substance; availability of drugs; ethnicity and psychological problems.
Some people are more sensitive to a particular substance than others, for example caffeine. It may be the case that you can drink several espressos in a day and not be affected in the slightest whereas another person will be climbing the walls after just one cup.
We are all different and what affects one person may not affect someone else at all.
Type of substance
Some drugs are much more addictive than others, for example cocaine, heroin and amphetamines can cause addiction after just one use. Other drugs require several sessions before they result in an addiction.
Availability of drugs
If a drug is easier to get hold of than others then it will show higher rates of addiction than something which is difficult to obtain. A good example of this is prescription drugs which are widely available and whose use has been linked to increased dependency rates.
Ethnicity plays a part in that there are certain racial groups who show a lower tolerance to drugs than others. There are biological factors in regard to addiction but cultural issues are also a factor here.
If a certain drug is seen as an acceptable part of a society then there is a greater risk of addiction than in societies which have banned this substance.
People suffering from a mental illness such as anxiety, depression or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are at an increased risk of developing drug addiction. This is mainly due to the fact that they believe that drugs prescribed for their illness help them to cope with life than if they were without.
Another factor is that mental illness can affect chemicals in the brain which may cause people to behave in bizarre or unpredictable ways. This unusual behaviour is often seen as a result of the side effects of medication prescribed to treat mental illness, such as anti-psychotic drugs.
The problem here is that the combination of the mental illness and the side effects of the medication may make that person vulnerable to developing an addiction.
How does an addiction start?
This can happen for a variety of reasons. If someone has been prescribed a drug on a legitimate basis, say for depression or pain relief then it is possible to become dependent on that drug. They may feel that they cannot cope without that drug or that the withdrawal symptoms are too unpleasant to deal with.
Addiction can start from someone’s first experimentation with drugs or alcohol and at something relatively innocuous such as a social event. If you decide to smoke a cannabis joint for the first time then the chilled, relaxed feeling experienced from this will probably result in you repeating the experiment.
Stronger forms of cannabis can result in heightened perceptions and hallucinations which may be seen as a form of escapism.
Escapism through drugs, tobacco or alcohol is also likely if you have issues surrounding low self-confidence and esteem. If, for example you are prone to shyness or have problems interacting with others then a few drinks or smoking marijuana can resolve that problem.
Many people find that taking these substances causes them to feel confident and self-assured in a social situation and if this has been the case for you then you are more than likely to do this again. The problem is when this becomes a ‘crutch’ - a way of masking your anxiety in a difficult situation. It then leads to a situation in which you cannot do without your ‘fix’ - whether that is cigarettes, alcohol or drugs, in order to function as you would like to.
The ‘high’ that people experience is what causes cravings and a strong desire for the source of their addiction.
In some ways this can creates a false persona: other people see the addicted you rather than your true personality.
If you realise that you have an addictive personality then you can hopefully take steps to prevent dependency. This means an awareness of those substances, e.g. caffeine or alcohol which are likely to trigger behaviour which can lead to an addiction.
People have their own reasons for the causes of their addiction and it is a case of understanding and empathising with them rather than pointing a finger of blame.
Drug addiction is no respecter of persons. It doesn’t matter what age, gender, ethnicity, social class or religion you belong to. No-one is immune to the far reaching effects of addiction. Drug addiction not only affects the user but includes family, friends and healthcare professionals.
Guide to Drug Addiction
- Drug Addiction Guide
- About Drug Addiction
- What is addiction
- What causes an addiction
- Addictive personality
- Drug addiction myths
- Genetics and addiction
- Signs of an addiction
- Risk factors for drug addiction
- Stress and addiction
- Social use of drugs
- What is pseudo-addiction
- Am I Addicted to drugs
- Social effects of drug addiction
- Drug addiction and crime
- Types of addictions
- Alcohol addiction
- Caffeine addiction
- Anabolic steroids
- Hallucinogenic drugs
- Legal high drugs
- Prescription drugs
- Young people and addictions
- Treating addiction
- Assessing drug addiction
- Medical help
- Addiction support
- Cognitive behavioural therapy
- Relapse prevention
- Self help