From the outside looking in, addiction can seem like a selfish lifestyle. Family, friends and other loved ones may assume that an addict is simply making a series of selfish choices and that an addict can stop taking drugs whenever he or she wants. The drug-seeking behavior may seem like he or she is just out to have a good time and that he or she doesn’t care about the negative consequences that are played out in the lives of those around him or her. However, this understanding of an addict’s behavior is incorrect although understandable. Addiction is a multifaceted problem, which is a combination of genetics, brain chemistry and personality.
Addiction as a Chronic Disease
According to the National Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA), addiction is a chronic brain disease and can be characterized by compulsively looking for and using drugs despite the negative and harmful consequences to self and others. Like other chronic illnesses, it must be constantly managed and monitored, and the risk of relapses is just as high (40-60 percent) as other chronic illnesses such as asthma, high blood pressure and diabetes also according to the NIDA. The chronic nature of addiction and its biological components debunks the myth that an addict (or an ex-addict who relapses) is just making poor choices. Addiction is a complicated disease that is created by the perfect storm of physical, emotional and environmental factors.
Addiction as a Brain Disease
Addiction changes the brain’s make-up. According to Psych Central long-term substance abuse alters brain chemistry. The changes in the brain’s levels of neurotransmitters can increase cravings and intensify impulsivity. More specifically taking drugs increases the dopamine levels in the brain. According to a 2012 article in Psychology Today, the surge of dopamine (which deals with the feelings of reward) makes drugs seem like an extremely attractive choice and will drive motivation toward drug-seeking. To go against the pleasure receptors and chemicals in the brain (by not choosing to use drugs anymore) becomes extremely difficult over time and increasingly more difficult the longer a person uses drugs. In essence the brain is rewiring itself toward drug addiction.
Addiction and Genetics
According to a 2011 article released by Psych Central, researchers believe genetics can influence drug use because addiction is an impulsive act. While there is no single gene or combination of genes that cause addiction, a person’s genetic makeup does influence the choice to use drugs according to a 2012 article released by psychology Today. This article also noted the genes related to impulsivity seem to be those most likely connected with addiction. Other personality factors, such as antisocial personality or addictive personality can also play a major role in addiction to drugs, according to a 1983 article in the New York Times.
Addiction and Mental Disorders
Research and history has shown that people with mental disorders often struggle with addiction as well. A 1990 article in The Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that for those an addiction (to either drugs or alcohol) were seven times more likely to have another disorder such as an addictive disorder. Those with a drug addiction (but not an alcohol addiction) were over 50% more likely to have a mental disorder than non-drug users. These statistics underscore the complicated nature of drug addiction. Genetics, biology and the environment create a complicated web of influencing factors that can greatly influence a person to use drugs.
Addiction and Trauma
One other major factor that influences a person’s decision to use drugs is personal trauma. People who experience painful, negative experiences often use drugs as a means to deal with those events. For example, a report housed in the US National Library of Medicine in the National Institutes of Health indicated that in one study, 70 percent of female and 56 percent of male drug users have been sexually abused as children and over 40 percent of those suffered severe sexual abuse with intercourse. More than 40 percent of those in the study also had a history of physical abuse. Furthermore, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs reported that more than 1 in 5 soldiers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) also suffers from drug addiction. On a larger scale a 2011 article in the Health Science Journal showed that over 40% of people with a drug dependence showed symptoms of PTSD. The study also showed that the greater the symptoms of PTSD, the greater the dependency on drugs. These statistics help explain that addiction is not merely a selfish act of egocentric people bent on their own pleasure at the expense of others. A large number of people struggling with addiction are using drugs to forget an extremely painful, traumatic experience. They are simply trying to cope.
Getting Help For Your Addiction
If you are struggling with an addiction to drugs, we can help. We understand that addiction is a complicated disease, not just a selfish choice. You can call our toll-free helpline anytime, 24 hours a day and talk with one of our admissions counselors. We will help you determine the best treatment options for your unique situation, such as family history or trauma that led to your addiction. Addiction is a disease, but it is treatable and manageable. Call us today, and start on the road to recovery.