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Understanding the Underlying Root Causes of Addiction

Peace of Mind for You Soberlink

Addiction is a complex, multifaceted condition that affects people who lose control of their actions. This highly complex disease can prevent someone from fully being present, ruin relationships, and end lives. Many people believe addicts lack willpower and can stop using on their own. They say, “If they only try hard enough, they could stop.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

underlying root causes of addiction

According to the Silver Ridge Recovery Program, the most common roots of addiction are chronic stress, a history of trauma, mental illness, and a family history of addiction. Understanding how these can lead to chronic substance abuse and addiction helps to reduce the risk of becoming addicted.

The Development of Addiction

When a person begins to use their drug of choice, their brain’s reward circuit is flooded with dopamine, causing euphoria. As a person uses their drug of choice more, the brain produces less dopamine each time. In other words, the brain begins to form a tolerance. More drug of choice is needed to achieve the same high.  As a result of these brain adaptations, individuals may lose their ability to derive pleasure from activities they once enjoyed, such as eating, sex, or socializing.

root cause addiction sober speak

Long-term use of drugs can cause changes in various brain functions, including learning, judgment, decision-making, and stress, by affecting chemical systems and circuits in the brain.

Psychological & Emotional

Addiction tends to end up being a coping mechanism for those in emotional pain and have psychological factors. Mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and trauma-related disorders can increase the risk of addiction. Individuals may turn to substances or behaviors as a way to cope with emotional pain, traumatic experiences, or escape from adverse childhood experiences and mental health conditions.

sober speak root cause of addiction

Psychological factors such as peer pressure, social acceptance, and the desire to fit in can also contribute to the development of addictive behaviors. Young adults with risk factors such as adverse childhood experiences may engage in high-risk behavior like substance abuse or addictive behaviors to seek validation or form connections with others. It is crucial to understand various factors involved in addiction development for prevention, early intervention, and effective treatment. The first step is to recognize the early signs of addiction and seek help promptly; individuals can take steps toward recovery.

Genetic Factors

Some have a genetic predisposition that can also affect addiction. Everyone’s DNA is nearly identical, with only a 0.1% difference between individuals. But that minuscule difference in genetic makeup can have effects on a variety of health conditions, including the root cause of addiction. About 50% of the risk for drug or alcohol addiction comes from your genetic makeup. Those with parents who suffer from addiction have a higher risk for addiction.

Environmental Influences

Growing up in an environment surrounded by drug and alcohol use can lead to an increased risk of addiction later. In a home where drug and alcohol use is seen as normal, these environmental factors play a part when children are in a situation to drink alcohol and try drugs. Underlying causes such as diet, lifestyle, and childhood trauma have also been found to be a source of addiction.

Cycle of Addiction

A substance abuse disorder does not just happen in an instant. It is a chronic disease that develops over time and is not the first time someone uses addictive substances. There are various models of the different stages of drug addiction and alcohol abuse. This post will look at these stages.

1. Initiation

This first stage of addiction happens occurs in four ways.

  • Curiosity – Someone hears about a substance and tries it
  • Peer pressure – People a person knows that persuade or pressure them into trying their substance of choice.
  • Prescriptions –Prescription medications, often prescription painkillers, initiate the addiction cycle.
  • Home environment – In homes where drug abuse or people binge drink, such behavior is seen as typical, and there is little avoidant response.

Additionally, there is also a link between people with mental health issues and drug and alcohol use, indicating that such people are more likely to engage in risky use.

The first use or first drink introduces potential addicts to the possibilities of how pleasurable use may be. It can be very enticing and may lead to the second stage. At this stage, though, it seems harmless enough, and because a person can control their consumption, they consider that they will be able to do so in the future.

2. Experimentation

In this stage, illegal drugs and alcohol are used in different contexts and may be mixed with other drugs. In experimentation, there is little craving for the drug, and physical dependence is absent. The belief about the ability to control use as we advance may be reinforced. At this point, the user is not an addict, and if they compare themselves to an addict, they see their involvement with drugs as being manageable, which, at this stage, it is.

3. Regular Usage

The third stage starts when a substance becomes a part of a pattern and is used regularly. This does not necessarily mean daily, but it can be on the weekends or clubbing.

This is a transitional phase. Decisions now establish most people’s future more than any other stage except the 7th. At this stage, people may experience negative consequences, such as affected work performance and an increased number of hangovers.

4. Risky Usage

When people reach risky usage, the occasional negative effects of stage 3, regular usage, become more frequent and severe. This is when things like DUIs start to happen, and work or academic performance declines noticeably.

In daily life, behaviors start to change, and actions such as:

  • Theft of money, substances of choice, or saleable items
  • Neglecting work and/or family
  • Attempting to hide or gloss over their drug or alcohol use, trying to convince others that their concern is unwarranted
  • Hiding drugs from others
  • Changing peer groups and starting to mix with others who exhibit addictive behavior,
  • If the substance of choice is a prescription medication, they may visit multiple doctors or change doctors frequently.
  • Losing interest in previous activities
  • Engage in risky behavior such as driving drunk or having unprotected sex
  • Self-care starts to decline
  • May become financially compromised

5. Dependence

Dependence involves three elements. These are:

  1. Tolerance – As the use of a substance becomes more frequent, higher amounts are needed to achieve the same effect.
  2. Physical dependence – this is defined as the point when not drinking or using results in withdrawal symptoms.
  3. Psychological dependence – also known as “chemical dependency,” refers to the condition of experiencing drug cravings.

Not all of the above conditions may be present at the start, but most will eventually be present at the end of the stage. They usually occur in this order. Someone may show tolerance but not be physically dependent. People cannot exhibit physical dependence without developing substance tolerance.

6. Addiction/Substance Abuse Disorder

These terms are interchangeable, with substance abuse disorder (SUD) being the term used in psychiatric circles.

The extent of substance use disorders can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on how many diagnostic criteria are present. The assessment will include criteria like:

  • Being unable to face life with drugs or alcohol.
  • Inability to control use.
  • Continuing to use a substance even though it has severe, negative effects on health and life.
  • Lying about use, particularly regarding quantity, but also frequency.
  • The addict avoids friends and family, becoming increasingly isolated.
  • They give up activities they used to enjoy before.
  • The addict cannot or will not recognize the problems caused by and associated with their behavior or interpersonal relationships, often blaming others for any issues.

During this stage, this chronic disease is in full swing. There is an ever-increasing risk of physical damage and overdose. Substance abuse disorders damage motivation, memory, decision-making, learning, and emotions.

The behaviors mentioned in stage 4 have now become a constant issue. For some, the increasing inability to manage is when they realize they have reached a low point and find the courage to attempt to change. This leads them to the final stage.

These stages reflect the entire life of this disorder.

Available Treatment Options

There comes a point for many addicts where they enter a crisis period, where they are reduced to a point where it is necessary to admit to their inability to cope with their substance abuse. This is when, in 12-step programs, people say they “admitted they were powerless over their addiction and that their lives had become unmanageable”.

There are many treatment options. These include 12-step programs or other support groups, outpatient treatment programs, and admission to a residential center.

Several interventions may be used. These include medical detox to alleviate withdrawal symptoms, dealing with any co-morbid mental illness, and various therapies to help reduce the chances of returning to the vicious cycle of this disease. There is much for the addict in recovery to deal with.

Significant changes are needed to maximize the chance of staying clean. A person with a fully-fledged substance abuse disorder has often burned many bridges and now needs to rebuild relationships with family members. Support is vital in becoming and staying recovered.

About the author
Shannon M
Shannon M's extensive experience in addiction recovery spans several decades. Her journey started at a young age when she attended treatment aftercare sessions for a family member and joined Alateen meetings, a support group for young people affected by a loved one's addiction. In 1994, Shannon personally experienced the challenges of addiction and took the courageous step of joining Alcoholics Anonymous. This experience gave her a unique perspective on the addiction recovery process, which would prove invaluable in her future work. Shannon's passion for helping others navigate the complexities of addiction led her to pursue a degree in English with a minor in Substance Abuse Studies from Texas Tech University. She completed her degree in 1996, equipping her with the knowledge and skills necessary to provide compassionate and effective support to those struggling with addiction.