Some people consume moderate amounts of alcohol on a regular basis, but never lose their ability to control how often or how much they drink. Others are unable to have “just a few drinks” without the night turning into a catastrophe. Some people use prescription painkillers when prescribed, then stop when the pain goes away. For others, an opioid prescription is an invitation to devastation. Similar contradictory circumstances surround many other addictive substances. Why do some people become addicted while others don’t?
How Does Addiction Work?
Most experts view addiction as a chronic, progressive disease. This means that it is a lifelong condition that will continue to get worse without effective treatment. When a person gets the care they need, they don’t become “cured.” Instead, they develop the ability to control their urges and manage the other symptoms of this disorder.
When a person develops a substance use disorder (which is the clinical term for addiction), they become incapable of controlling the amount and frequency of their drug use. They are also likely to be affected in some or all of the following ways:
- Prioritizing substance use over personal and professional responsibilities
- Devoting considerable time, effort, and money to acquiring and using drugs
- Continuing to use drugs even after they have incurred damage (such as medical problems, ruined relationships, job loss, or legal concerns) as a direct result of previous drug use
- Using drugs in exceedingly dangerous ways, such as in combination with medication or other substances
- Needing to use more of the drug to experience the effects that used to be much easier to achieve
- Experiencing physical and psychological distress when they can’t acquire and use the drug, or when they try to curtail or end their drug use
Why Do Some People Become Addicted to Drugs While Others Don’t?
Experts have been studying addiction, treatment, recovery, and relapse for decades. These efforts have included trying to better understand why some people are more likely to become addicted than others are. Research hasn’t revealed any absolutes yet, but it has identified several factors that can raise or lower a person’s risk for addiction:
- The type of substance a person uses: Marijuana presents a low risk of addiction. Using opioids such as heroin and prescription painkillers is much more likely to lead to addiction. Alcohol is more addictive than marijuana, but less addictive than opioids. Other substances can also be placed at various points along this continuum.
- Family history: People whose relatives have struggled with addiction are more likely to develop substance use disorders themselves. The presence of certain mental health concerns within the family – especially among parents or siblings – may also influence the likelihood that a person will develop an addiction.
- Personal mental health: Certain mental health concerns are associated with an elevated risk for substance abuse and addiction. These co-occurring disorders include anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Personal history: People who were abused or neglected, who lost a parent at a young age, or who had other adverse childhood experiences may have an inflated risk for addiction. Other forms of trauma at any age, such as being physically attacked, sexually assaulted, bullied, or verbally harassed, can also increase the odds that a person will struggle with addiction.
- Genetics: As scientists further unravel the mysteries of the human genome, they have begun to identify certain genes and gene clusters that appear to be associated with addiction. This doesn’t mean that every person who has a specific genetic makeup will definitely become addicted. But it does mean that certain genetic markers can indicate which people may be more likely to develop an addiction.
What to Do if You Become Addicted to Drugs
Finding the answer to the question, “Why do some people become addicted while others don’t?” can be extremely helpful in the effort to protect people from the ravages of substance use disorders. But this information alone isn’t enough to help people who have already developed an addiction.
If you have become dependent on alcohol or another drug, here are three valuable tips:
- Get help: Addiction can be isolating. You might think no one could possibly understand what you’re going through. You may believe that there is no escape. Neither of these thoughts are true. Effective help is available. Addiction is treatable. When you get proper care for addiction, you can live a much healthier life.
- Explore your options: Addiction treatment is not a one-size-fits-all experience. This disorder impacts different people in different ways. Similarly, some treatment approaches are perfect for some people, but ineffective for others. Level of care options include detox, residential treatment, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient programming. Within each of these levels, several types of therapies and support services may be available. Understanding your options can help you find the type and level of care that’s best for you.
- Know that you are worth the effort: This may be difficult at first, but it is essential. You are a valuable human being who deserves health and happiness. Addiction is not a character flaw, nor is it a sign of moral weakness. You have a legitimate, treatable health condition. At this exact moment, millions of people around the world are struggling with addiction. Don’t be ashamed to admit you have this disorder, and never feel guilty about asking for help.
Begin Treatment for Addictive Drugs Today
Phoenix Rising in Palm Springs, California provides customized care at multiple levels for adults who have become addicted to alcohol or other drugs. Our team understands what you have been going through, and we are here to help. Your path to improved health and successful recovery is just a phone call away. Contact us today to learn more.