When it comes to addiction, one of the most common questions people ask is why? Some people casually participate in substance use on an occasional basis and never seem to have a problem, while others experience a life-changing struggle with addiction. Science is learning more about the reasons that addiction happens but there is no simple explanation for why some people struggle with addiction while others do not.
Changing Our Thinking About Addiction
In order to understand why the struggle with addiction is unique for each individual, the way we think about addiction has to change. Often friends, family members, and people living with addiction don’t understand that it is a complex medical condition. We often associate shame and blame with substance use problems. But it’s a misconception that people simply choose to live life with addiction. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Try and think about it this way. When a person is diagnosed with a condition like multiple sclerosis, people often express empathy and ask if there is anything that they can do to help. Rarely do they wonder what the sick person did to cause it or express feelings that they should just get over it. When the person with multiple sclerosis has flare-ups and is unable to function it is never referred to as falling off the wagon or failure.
Let’s flip the story just a little bit. When a person is diagnosed with substance use disorder and struggles with addiction people often express judgment and even distance themselves from the person living with addiction. People wonder why they chose to use substances and why they don’t just stop. Very rarely do people ask how they can help. When a person with addiction relapses or begins using substances again, affecting their ability to function, it is often referred to as falling off the wagon or failure.
When you begin to see addiction for the illness that it is, the stigma falls away and makes treatment and help the norm. Let’s take a deeper look at addiction and why some people struggle with addiction and others do not.
Addiction is a chronic, medical condition that can damage health and disrupt daily life by repeated use of a substance despite negative consequences. 1
People living with addiction experience changes in their brain that make it difficult to stop using substances without support and treatment. Addiction is considered the number one public health crisis of our time. Over 23 million adults in the United States from every walk of life struggle with problematic substance use currently or in the past. 75% of people who struggle with substance use report receiving no treatment. 2 Research into understanding what makes some people more susceptible to addiction is improving and we are learning more all the time.
Why Does Addiction Happen? What Causes People to Struggle with Addiction?
The reasons that some people struggle with addiction are as unique as the people struggling with addiction. Scientists are researching many different theories. Two of the main reasons that addiction affects some people and not others are genetics and the environment.
According to the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah, addiction has a tendency to run in families. 3 Having close relatives who struggle with addiction may make a person more vulnerable. This does not mean that all family members will struggle with addiction but it is an important fact to be aware of. Studies show that 50%-60% of addiction is related to genetic factors. 4 Scientists are still working to identify specific genes and even genetic treatments to better understand how genetic factors contribute to addiction and many other health conditions.
Environmental factors often called risk and protective factors can play a big role in a person’s susceptibility to addiction. 5 Risk factors can increase a person’s risk of addiction while protective factors can decrease a person’s risk of addiction. These factors begin to influence our lives in childhood and adolescence and continue to play a role in the risk of addiction into adulthood.
- Poverty and food insecurity;
- Prolonged stress including illness;
- Family dysfunction including divorce, abuse, and poor relationships;
- Early aggressive behaviors and witnessing or experiencing abuse; and
- Major life changes like job loss, moving, divorce, and death.
- Strong connections to family, school, and/or community
- Positive family involvement;
- Decreasing stress through life changes and therapy;
- Early treatment of aggressive behavior;
- Spending time with positive peers and mentors; and
- Learning healthy coping strategies.
Seek Help When You Struggle With Addiction
The good news is that no matter why addiction happens in your life, you don’t have to face it alone. Just like any other illness, there are evidence-based treatments and support that can help you overcome your struggle with addiction. You can live a life of sobriety free from the challenges that addiction brings.
At Ocean Hills Recovery, our dedicated professionals will work with you to create an individualized plan to help you create the life you want. Our staff are not only effective and encouraging but also compassionate and devoted to your success. Reach out to us today if you want to explore your options to break your struggle with addiction.