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By: Why Am I An Addict and How Do I Stop?

Why Am I An Addict and How Do I Stop?

Do you remember where were you when you took your very first sip of alcohol or experimented with drugs for the first time? You may not recall all of the details, but you probably remember certain things about it like whether you were of legal drinking age or who you were with. Drug or alcohol use usually starts innocently enough out of social pressures or just plain curiosity.

The point where you when you crossed over from recreational experimentation to active drug or alcohol abuse and addiction is probably less clear to you. If you’re ready to face your addiction and accept treatment, you might be wondering how you became addicted in the first place, or why your other friends didn’t become addicted at all. Do genetics or environment increase the likelihood of addiction or could there be other factors?

National Trends in Drug Use

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) gives us a snapshot of alcohol and drug abuse trends. Their research shows a slight upward trend in drug abuse since 2002. A recent rise in drug use likely stems from states starting to legalize marijuana. Drug use among people age 50 and older more than doubled from 2002-2012.

Abuse of prescription drugs is on the rise. More people die from overdoses of prescription drugs than from all illegal drugs combined. Emergency room visits from prescription drug overdoses almost doubled from 2004-2009, particularly from opioid use. 

Surprisingly, NIDA also shows slight decreases in underage drinking and DUI percentages.

What Are the Underlying and Overt Causes of Drug Addiction?

No studies have proven for certain what causes drug addiction. However, researchers do have a few theories worth exploring. In an article by Psychology Today called Why Some People Are Drug Addicts, author Nigel Barber, Ph.D., suggests that there are two reasonable theories as to why some people become addicted and other don’t. They are the disease theory and the learning theory.

The Disease Theory

Dr. Barber states that the disease theory supports the idea that some people have a biological vulnerability to addiction. If this theory holds true, it’s possible that someday we may discover a substance or other treatment that effectively reverses the body’s chemical structure in a way that lessens the potential for addiction in vulnerable populations.

The Learning Theory

By contrast, the learning theory supports the idea that the reinforcing properties of drugs produce addiction. Dr. Barber points to experiments where lab animals would work at pressing a lever in order to get repeated small injections of addictive drugs. Another study on crack cocaine showed that the effects of smoking cocaine got to the brain faster than when addicts snorted it. This proved that the sooner the person got a fix, the sooner they wanted to feed their habit.

Science also shows that addictive drugs activate the production of dopamine in the brain, which creates naturally good feelings in us, such as when we eat or mate.

The workings of the brain might explain how some people become addicted more easily than others. If we believe the learning theory, how do things like genetics, environment, or other issues factor?

NIDA studies show that children of addicts are 45-79% more likely to abuse drugs than others and that 60% of kids turn to alcoholism if other family members have it. But can we attribute these statistics to genetics, the environment, or both?

Researchers also point to links between mental health and addiction. reports national findings that about 56% of individuals with bipolar disorder experienced addiction at some point during their lifetimes. They add that alcohol is the most commonly abused substance among people living with bipolar disorder.

These statistics are not conclusive on their own, but they point to the possibilities that genetics, environment, and mental illness may have an impact on the potential for drug addiction.

How to Get Help for Someone with Alcoholism or Addiction

When you notice that a beloved friend or family member is struggling with addiction there are steps that you can take whether they have asked for your help or not.

Getting Help When a Friend Denies Their Addiction

If they have not come forth asking for help, you might try to bring up a discussion about it with them when they are with two or three trusted friends. In this small setting, it may be easier for the person to admit that they are struggling if they feel that all of you support them and don’t judge them.

Another step that you can take if they still aren’t ready to accept treatment is to suggest that they make an appointment with a doctor for an evaluation. It may also help to leave your friend with some resources to locate a physician that specializes in addiction treatment. The American Society of Addiction Medicine has a website that lets you perform an online search for an addiction specialist. You can also get a referral from the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry. Your friend may reconsider calling a doctor later if they are struggling emotionally and you are not there.

Finding Treatment Options When Someone Asks for Help

Some people find success with self-help programs or sheer will to break an addiction, but those circumstances are not the norm. Most people will need professional help to make a full recovery from drug addiction or alcoholism.

Advanced Health & Education has recovery center that can help. Advanced Health’s Admission coordinators will help you determine what level of care you may need. If we aren’t able to help we will help you find a program that can.

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Several factors need to be taken into consideration when setting up a course of treatment, so it’s best to work with a qualified treatment coordinator. During the intake process they will consider the type of addiction, effects, length of addiction, and personal factors that affect your work and home life. The coordinator will recommend a course of treatment that combines multiple aspects of treatment like in-patient, out-patient, psychotherapy, self-help groups, mentoring programs, and medication. Most people can continue living at home and working during treatment. Here is a short description of some treatment options:

  • Self help groups-groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous where there is group support and a mentor
  • Detoxification-a medically supervised program where the you let the body withdraw from the physical symptoms of addiction
  • In-patient treatment-short term stay in a rehabilitation facility where withdrawal and intensive recovery takes place
  • Outpatient-a program where the person goes for daily or weekly treatment for a few hours a day
  • Partial programs-intensive programs where patients come each day for all day treatment
  • Residential-severe cases of addiction may require a residential stay for several months of intensive treatment

Success Is Possible Regardless of the Cause of Addiction

While you may always wonder why the addiction started in the first place, what we do know is how to successfully treat addictions and alcoholism. Treatment isn’t easy, but there are lots of options available to help. The addicted person may have a relapse, but when they are willing to accept help, eventually treatment will work. People who struggle with alcoholism and addiction need lots of support from those who are close to them, regardless of any hereditary or environmental factors.

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