What Causes Addiction?

Addiction is most commonly blamed on the substances involved, whether that substance is morphine, marijuana, alcohol or any other drug. While you must acknowledge the way drugs develop addictions, not everyone who abuses a drug becomes an addict. There is more to addiction development than the effects of the substances involved, so there is more to recovery than simply not using the drug any more.

Addiction Development and Expression

Addiction is a complex disease, and there is no single cause that can be blamed or isolated. The American Society of Addiction Medicine‘s (ASAM) definition of addiction is “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.” In other words, addiction stems from and is expressed in biology, psychology, social function and more, and each of these facets interacts with one another.

Causes of Addiction

Addiction often runs in families, which suggests that addiction may have genetic causes. However, genes are not the only cause of addiction, as children of addicts can grow up to drink or recreationally use drugs once or twice and then never do so again. Other children from families with no addiction issues can take a drink and then never put the bottle down. The journal Nature explains that “researchers have tried to identify the genes responsible for addiction…Yet they have failed to isolate a single genetic factor that reliably distinguishes between the 10–20% of people who try alcohol or illegal drugs and get hooked and the majority who do not.” Looking at family history helps individuals determine their risk for addiction, but it does not predict immunity or addiction. It can help individuals evaluate their drug or alcohol use, but it does not determine if addiction is present or not.

Family also influences addiction development on psychological and social levels. Even if addiction is not in a family’s genes, addiction in the family can still contribute to addiction development. While most children of addicts and alcoholics do not become addicted to drugs, they are more likely than other children to become addicts in the future, because, as The National Institute for Drug Abuse for Teens explains, “children whose parents abuse alcohol and drugs (1) are more likely to have behavioral problems, which increase the risk for trying alcohol or drugs; (2) have more opportunities to try these substances.” In short, addiction may come from genetic factors, and addiction in families may also be caused by issues relating to environment and behavior. Since most children of addicts do not become addicts, environment alone cannot be blamed, but neither can genetics. Access to drugs certainly influences an individuals’ ability to try drugs, yet trying drugs does not predict addiction either. Genetics and environment entwine, so they contribute to addiction without being the only cause of it.

Even if addiction does not run in someone’s family, this condition may still have some biological basis. The ASAM explains that another contributor toward addiction is “the presence of an underlying biological deficit in the function of reward circuits, such that drugs and behaviors which enhance reward function are preferred and sought as reinforcers.” In other words, individuals who do not produce or process dopamine or other neurotransmitters related to feelings of pleasure may be more susceptible to addiction than others. This may seem like a simple cause of addiction, yet behavior and psychology is once again involved, and a chemical or lack thereof that causes addiction cannot be isolated.

Psychology is involved in families with and without addiction. As mentioned above, growing up in a house where drug abuse is normalized and encouraged may lead to behavioral issues that contribute to early drug use and addiction development; on the other hand, parents who are absent and negligent due to their addictions may lead their children to try drugs for themselves. However, these are not the only problems that contribute to addiction. Mental health and addiction are closely related, so the ASAM lists additional potential causes of addiction as “cognitive and affective distortions, which impair perceptions and compromise the ability to deal with feelings, resulting in significant self-deception; Exposure to trauma or stressors that overwhelm an individual’s coping abilities; Distortion in meaning, purpose and values that guide attitudes, thinking and behavior; The presence of co-occurring psychiatric disorders.” Preexisting mental health issues (such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and more) put individuals at risk for addiction. However, risk factors are not causes for addiction either.

Additionally, drug abuse causes or worsens mental health concerns in turn, so, while addiction can both stem from and create mental health issues, these problems are not the only causes for addiction either. Stress and trauma are also closely tied to addiction, but not everyone who experiences trauma becomes addicted, and not everyone with a drug or alcohol use issue has experienced trauma. In short, many factors can lead to addiction, so seek help to identify your cause of addiction, and then seek help to address it.

What Causes Recovery?

Addiction involves the interaction of many causes, so recovery involves untangling and addressing these problems in a holistic way. Learn more about complete, comprehensive addiction treatment by calling our toll-free helpline now. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to make recovery as easy as possible.