While there are numerous factors that influence a person’s risk of addiction, before looking at them, it is important to understand exactly what addiction is. Drug addiction is a disease of the brain that that has the potential to actually change the brain’s structure and workings. Like diseases of other organs of the body, drug addiction impedes the regular functioning of the brain. While drug addiction is a chronic problem, it can be treated, and it is preventable.
Drugs impact the brain in a variety of ways. They cause interference with how nerve cells communicate and increase the amount of the chemical dopamine. When a person engages their addiction, the brain releases dopamine. The extra dopamine released means that the person will want to experience the high again and again. As the body adjusts to the extra dopamine and the resulting high, the person will no longer be able to experience feeling good by activities other than doing drugs, and will need to keep using in order to maintain that pleasurable feeling. The need to seek out and use drugs will eventually overwhelm other desires, so that pleasure once obtained by enjoying the company of family or friends will be replaced by this almost irrational need to seek out drugs.
The number of drug and alcohol addicts in the U.S. alone is staggering. Since 2002, the number has stayed at around 22 million. Of that number, those that are addicted to illegal drugs are approximately seven million.
Factors That Contribute to Addiction
As addiction to drugs and alcohol in the U.S. is an ongoing concern, scientists and researchers have studied just why people become addicts while others can use drugs and alcohol without becoming addicted to them. Though many people will have multiple factors that contribute to their addiction, others may only have a few, and some may only have one factor that contributes to their addiction. These factors and their influences will vary greatly from person to person.
- Genetics — If you have someone in your family who has been addicted to drugs or alcohol in the past, that doesn’t mean that you will necessarily become addicted as well. Nevertheless, because your family member was an addict, you will have a greater propensity to become addicted if you choose to use drugs. Statistics show that (along with other factors), genetics may contribute 40-60% to the risk for drug addiction.
- Stage of Development — Research has proven that the earlier someone uses drugs, the more likely they will be to develop an addiction when they are older. One of the primary reasons for this is that brain development is very significant during the teen years. The effects of drugs used during these years can make someone more vulnerable to addiction as they get older. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism conducted a survey and learned that adults between the age of 18 and 24 were most likely to have both alcohol use disorders and other drug addictions.
- Gender — Though there are differences in how drugs impact men’s versus women’s bodies, men are more likely to use marijuana and alcohol while women are more likely to use and become addicted to drugs that decrease anxiety. Overall, men statistically are more likely to use and abuse drugs than women, though this has been changing in recent years.
- Mental Illness — Those with a variety of mental illnesses are more likely to use and abuse drugs for a number of reasons. It is possible that drugs give them a sense of euphoria and a sense of well-being. Additionally, illnesses of a mental variety will impact the same parts of the brain as do drugs thereby increasing the potential for abuse.
- Ethnic Group — Studies have shown that different ethnic groups metabolize drugs at a different rate, which means that some groups are actually more sensitive to certain drugs than others. In addition, while the impact of society can also influence drug use, studies show that there is a greater use of drugs by white Americans rather than African-Americans or Hispanics. Moreover, the negative effects of drug use such as AIDS have a greater impact on minority groups.
- Stable Home Environment — If the parents are very involved and have provided structure for the children, there is a decreased chance that the children will use and/or abuse drugs. If the home environment is unstable, and the parents are addicts themselves or if they have some type of mental illness, it is more likely that the children may use and abuse drugs.
- Ease of Obtaining Drugs — The more available the drugs are for a person, whether they are available at home, school or at a friend’s house, will determine whether someone will try or start using and possibly abusing drugs.
- Influence of Friends — While the term “getting in with a bad crowd”, may often be used by older members of society, they aren’t far off the mark when considering how choosing one’s friends can impact the likelihood of becoming a drug user. If someone is friends with those who encourage and use drugs themselves, it may be difficult to abstain from drug use and be the only one not using.
- Failure in School — A sign that a teenager may be using drugs is poor academic performance. Those teenagers who do well in school and have bonded with teachers, coaches or other adults outside of the family unit are less likely to use drugs.
- Stress — Stress stems from a variety of situations. Someone may feel stress from the poverty in which they live, or they may feel pressured to achieve perfection. Additionally, stress can take the form of abuse, whether it is sexual, physical or psychological. People who experience types of stress may be more likely to use drugs. That is why youth are encouraged to join groups that abstain, such as some sports groups or church groups.
Risk Factors for Addiction
While factors that contribute to addiction and risk factors for addiction are very similar, when looking at risk factors, it is important to go further into the exploration of the human psyche. We can look at what makes us tick and makes some people at a greater risk than others for developing addictions.
Genetics is both a contributing factor and a risk factor for addiction. Statistically, those who have a sibling or a parent with an addiction problem are at least two to four times as likely to become an addict. This statistic is according to Marc Galanter, MD, a professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine, who is also the director of the division of alcoholism and drug abuse at the New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City.
It is important to note that not everyone with an addict in their family will become an addict themselves. Conversely, someone can become an addict even if no one in their family is already an addict. Genetics is only one of the risk factors when considering the possibility that someone will develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
In addition to genetics, another addiction risk factor is the type of drug that someone uses. A drug such as heroin that is injected is more likely to cause someone to become addicted to it because the high very quick. The brain recognizes the high much more quickly than a drug taken orally.
Another aspect of factors that affect addiction is that when injecting a drug, the high that is experienced tends to diminish more quickly than a high experienced when someone takes the drug orally. The quick fading of the high will encourage the drug user to want to use an increasing amount of the drug to achieve that same high quicker and better than before.
If they are taking painkillers, even if they are taking them as prescribed by a physician, there is the potential that they can become addictive. That is why it is important to only take the as prescribed and stop taking them when the pain has diminished. Cocaine is also a very addictive drug, and even if someone insists that they are only trying it, the propensity for becoming addicted is great because of the additive properties of the drug. Taking any drug, even if it’s not highly addictive, may start someone down the path towards the more addictive drugs.
A person’s state of well-being also plays a factor. If they are experiencing feelings of anxiousness, loneliness or depression, they may be more likely to use and abuse drugs especially if the drugs provide them with temporary relief from these feelings. Additional risk factors include a rejection of conventional values or religion. As part of the rejection, people may start to associate with similar peers who reject conventional values or religion and decide that it is okay to use drugs.
How to Prevent Addiction
One of the best resources when learning how to combat and prevent addiction is the doctor. They may be able to help by developing methods to avoid addictive behavior. For example, they may suggest a complete avoidance of using drugs or alcohol to combat the possibility that any use of these substances might lead someone down the path of addiction.
Other ways to prevent addiction are methods that a family might use and start with their children at a very young age. Because the primary and early interactions of children occur within the family unit, it is important to have a strong family relationship, where the parents or caregivers don’t abuse drugs. Parents that are nurturing and have a very significant bond with their children are taking large steps towards helping their children avoid addictive behaviors in the future. In addition to bonding with their children, these parents can help prevent addiction by involving themselves in their children’s lives. Discipline is also a large part of the parenting effort, as children are provided with very definite limitations and understand the difference between right and wrong.
Once a child starts interacting with others outside the family unit, they may have a greater risk for becoming drug users. This risk grows when they associate with peers who are drug users or when they are in areas where drugs are readily available.
Parents can help lessen the likelihood that their children will use drugs when placed in circumstances of temptation if they reinforce the negative impact of drug use and encourage their children to be involved in activities where their peers will discourage the use of drugs. Additionally, parents want to make sure that they keep open the communications lines with their children, so that they’ll be able to discuss problems and concerns with them and not seek alternative venues for assistance with problems. Alternative venues may include other children or teens who may not be giving the best advice when it comes to the use of drugs or alcohol.
Other protective factors occur in the environment at the community level. If there are plenty of opportunities for teens to be involved in the community, they may make it less likely that they’ll involve themselves in drug use. And if the community has a strong religious component, it may serve to make it less likely that teens will become involved in drug use.
Resources available for teens and young adults who are looking for meaning in their lives will enable them to search for something else, rather than indulge in the boredom that often leads to drug use. Such resources include adequate healthcare, childcare, jobs, housing and healthy recreational activities. Additionally, programs for parents who have teenagers and older children are very useful in providing them with the information they need to help prevent drug abuse in their children and look for the warning signs if they suspect that there is drug abuse.
Having a strong community may be one of the best efforts overall to help prevent drug abuse. The community effort to prevent drug abuse will include a strong competent police force that is aware of the potential dangers of drug abuse and is on the lookout for those who are using and abusing drugs. Neighborhood watches are also a helpful resource which enhance the community effort to combat drug use as they can monitor gangs in the neighborhoods to see where they congregate and let local law enforcement know if they see gang and drug activity.
Warning Signs of Addiction
If you or someone you care about exhibits any of these signs, there is a good possibility that there may be an addiction. Some of the signs are:
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms whenever you abstain from drinking or taking drugs. These signs can include severe shaking (delirium tremens for alcohol withdrawal), anxiety, nausea, vomiting or sweating.
- A constant craving for alcohol or for a certain type of drug
- A tolerance, so that you need more and more alcohol or drugs in order to get that same sense of euphoria that you once experienced with a smaller amount.
- Getting complaints from friends and family that your behavior is erratic or odd
- A change in your drinking habits so that you are often drinking more than you had originally anticipated
- A discovery that even though you tell yourself that you can stop drinking or doing drugs, you are physically and mentally unable to do so.
Other warning signs include more extensive (and notable) physical changes. If someone has marks on their arms or legs that look like puncture wounds, chances are that they might be using drugs. Another sign is if there is significant bruising on the inside of the elbows or near large veins. Sometimes people can develop infections around the puncture wounds, especially if they are using dirty needles. Additionally, there may be bruises that occur around the upper part of the arms because the drug user is tying off their veins.
Cocaine users will likely be sniffling frequently and may have some white residue in their nostrils. In addition, other users who are snorting drugs or using other types of inhaled drugs can sometimes end up with drops of paint near the end of their nose.
How to Help Someone Who is Faced with Addiction
Some of the elements that keep someone involved in addictive behavior include guilty feelings, depressed emotions and drug cravings.
Often administered for heroin addiction and cravings, pharmaceutical cures take the form of synthetic opioids like methadone. The problem with this solution is that the synthetic opioids can be just as addictive as the heroin, even though scientists developed these drugs to not give the same high. Cravings may be treated non-pharmaceutically through the detoxification process as well.
Doctors also commonly treat depression with pharmaceuticals, but this is not a cure-all. A patient cannot stop using most anti-depressants abruptly, or they will create even more negative feelings than they had to start with. It would be better for the patient if they were able to combat depression without using a pharmaceutical solution, especially since the side effects of anti-depressants can be significant, and may include increased risk for suicide and a lessening in sexual desire. As an addict rids their body of the toxic addictive drugs, they can start to experience a greater sense of self-worth by no longer tying themselves to their next fix. They will be able to build confidence by repairing fractured relationships and increasing their sense of self-worth.
While there are also medications (such as Valium and Xanax) that can treat guilt, their solution is actually to mask the emotion, which in the long run doesn’t really teach the addict how to deal with their feelings. As a person becomes free of the addictive drugs that have destroyed many of their good relationships, they will learn how to develop their sense of self-worth again. Once that happens, they can face the mistakes of their past that were attributed to their drug use and ask forgiveness of the people whom they harmed. This will enable them to move on and leave their pasts behind, realizing that the guilt of their past behavior has no place in their recovery.
If you or your loved one is faced with addiction, contact JourneyPure Emerald Coast. Their enhanced medical model detox and treatment will help you begin your journey.