Understanding the Root Cause of Addiction
Addiction costs Americans more than $700 billion annually in productivity, lost work, health care, and crime. Alcohol addiction costs the country about $250 billion while drug addiction costs about $270 billion. As shocking as these statistics might be, they only show a small part of the cost of drug addiction. The human toll is much higher.
People who abuse drugs for years are at high risk of liver failure, kidney damage, lung disease, and heart disease or heart failure. They may suffer strained family relationships, professional difficulties or legal problems. Drug addiction can affect anyone of any race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, religion, gender, and sexuality. It does not discriminate. Treating the root cause of addiction can help people overcome their addictions and move into recovery.
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Symptoms of Addiction
Initially, people use drugs out of curiosity, peer pressure or for pleasure. As drug users become addicted, they will continue to use drugs even though using is having a negative effect on their lives. They can develop an obsession and abandon previously enjoyable activities or hobbies.
Risk Factors for Addiction
Addiction is a complex issue, and there is no one root cause. Several factors can contribute to the development of dependence or addiction, including:
• Male sex
• Growing up in a household where drugs or alcohol are abused
• A family history of addiction
• Suffering from another mental health disorder, such as ADHD, PTSD, anxiety or depression
• Acute loneliness
• Difficult family situations
About 20 percent of drug users are also suffering from an anxiety disorder or mood disorder.
The Physical Changes of Addiction
Once the brain has been exposed repeatedly to drugs, the nerve cells, or neurons, experience physical changes, which last long after the drug exposure ends. The neurons release neurotransmitters into the synapses between them, and these neurotransmitters are received by other neurons. When a person takes drugs, their brain is overpowered by dopamine. It must adjust by either reducing the amount of dopamine it produces or reducing the neural pathways linked to the reward center of the brain. These physical changes can be permanent.
The Root Cause of Addiction
Many factors can play a role in a person developing an addiction. In some cases, a person may have an addictive personality that makes them more vulnerable to addiction as a coping mechanism. They might be more prone to not just substance misuse but also gambling addiction or other maladaptive behaviors.
Other common underlying issues that can contribute to addiction include:
1. Mental health problems:
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about half of people who are suffering from addiction are also suffering from serious mental health disorders, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. More than a third of alcoholics suffer from a mental illness, too. This is called “dual diagnosis.”
A person who is struggling with depression, anxiety or other mental health problems might turn to drugs or alcohol to ease their symptoms. This is called self-medication, and while it may offer the promise of relief, that relief is only temporary. As their bodies adapt to the dopamine, they will need more and more of the substance to achieve the same results.
2. Peer pressure:
Many people begin experimenting with alcohol or various drugs because their social circle or friends do. Because the experimentation has a pleasurable effect, they continue doing it, and over time, they develop an addiction.
If your parents had an addiction, you are at a higher risk of suffering from an addiction, too. Even if your parents were not addicted, if they frequently abused drugs or alcohol in front of you, they normalized that behavior, which can ultimately affect the way their kids view drugs and alcohol.
4. Low self-esteem:
People who have low self-esteem may feel a boost of confidence when they drink alcohol or use drugs. Over time, they may become dependent on those substances. People who feel lonely, sad or disconnected are also vulnerable to addiction. Drugs can numb the negative feelings and offer a temporary respite from their pain. Unfortunately, the sadness will return along with the new pain of addiction.
5. A history of trauma:
While many people associate the word “trauma” with war zones or similar horrific events, trauma can also refer to more personal experiences, such as a serious car accident, a divorce or a sexual assault. Survivors of child abuse, molestation, intimate partner violence and other types of abuse can be similarly traumatized. A history of trauma has been linked to not just a higher risk of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and suicidal ideation but also addictive behaviors.
Addressing the Root Causes of Addiction
When a person has co-occurring disorders, both conditions need to be treated simultaneously for maximum success and to reduce the risk of relapse. When only the addiction is treated and the underlying issues addiction are left unidentified and unaddressed, people can become stuck in unhealthy patterns using poor coping mechanisms repeatedly and without success. This can leave them struggling with the added pain of undeserved shame and judgment.
Chemical detox can be tough, but emotional detox can also be difficult. For long-term success, those who have a dual diagnosis will need to work through the emotional issues and mental health problems that initially led them to addiction or kept them there. This can include traumatic memories, painful emotions, and difficult situations, all of which can be addressed with the right support. Finding healthy ways to approach these issues can give people the tools they need for health, happiness, and a substance-free life.
Getting Addiction Help
The pain of addiction can be resolved once the underlying issues of addiction are identified and addressed. With addiction treatment designed to heal core issues and effect lasting change, people suffering from addiction can rediscover a life filled with peace, hope, and renewal.
About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.