No single factor determines whether someone will become addicted to drugs or alcohol. They could have also arrived at addiction because they started abusing substances at an early age or because of the friends they hung around.

There is a series of circumstances and events that drive an individual to take drugs or alcohol and become addicted. Sometimes those events or influences co-occur.   

Thus, addiction can be inherited or caused by genetics. Both are perhaps the greatest factors that contribute to someone turning to drugs or alcohol. Environment is another.  

Read on to find out more about what addiction is and the factors that cause it, along with professional treatment options.  

The Signs of Addiction

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), addiction is a chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry characterized by a person’s inability to abstain from drugs or alcohol or control their behaviors. Addiction is also marked by the presence of cravings and the diminished ability to recognize the problem one may have with their behaviors, interpersonal relationships, and dysfunctional, emotional response.

When someone becomes addicted to a substance, they will often exhibit observable signs and symptoms that are physical, behavioral, and psychological. 

The Physical Signs Can Be:

  • Bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils
  • Changes in appetite
  • Strange sleep patterns
  • Runny nose or sniffling
  • Unexplained and sudden weight changes
  • Shaking, tremors, or poor coordination

Some of the Most Common Behavioral Signs Include:

  • Strained relationships
  • Secretive or suspicious behavior
  • Trouble at work, school, or with the law
  • Legal issues like arrests or charges
  • Failing performance at work or school
  • Changes in social circles, new friend groups
  • An unexplained need for money, constantly asking for cash
  • Stealing money or valuables
  • Lack of control with drugs or alcohol
  • Increased tolerance (drinking or using more before it’s effective)
  • Using drugs or alcohol when it is dangerous (i.e., drinking and driving or at the expense of a health condition)
  • Poor hygiene habits, a lack of self-care

Psychological Signs of Addiction Include:

  • Fearful, panicked, anxious, or paranoid without a clear cause
  • Lethargy, lack of motivation
  • Unusual surges of energy
  • Strange and sudden mood swings
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Angry outbursts or bouts of rage

The Symptoms of Addiction

One definitive addiction metric is provided by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the principal authority for psychiatric diagnoses published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). 

The DSM-5 outlines verified and evidenced criteria concerning addiction. According to the manual, if someone displays two of the following symptoms over 12 months, addiction may be present:

  • Taking more of the drug than intended and for a longer time than intended
  • A persistent desire to stop taking drugs or repeated unsuccessful attempts to quit taking drugs
  • A lot of time spent trying to get drugs, abuse them, and/or recover from their effects
  • Intense cravings or urges for specific drugs
  • Failing to go to work or school, or to meet obligations to friends and family because of drug abuse
  • Ongoing drug abuse despite the physical, mental, emotional, or social problems associated with the abuse
  • Giving up hobbies or activities to abuse drugs
  • Ongoing abuse of drugs in inappropriate situations, such as using them in the morning before work, driving while intoxicated, or abusing drugs around children
  • Experiencing physical or psychological problems due to substance abuse but continuing to abuse drugs anyway
  • Physical tolerance, meaning the body needs more of the drug to experience the initial level of intoxication
  • Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when trying to quit the drug

What Really Causes Addiction

In 1978, someone by the name of Tony A. published “The Laundry List,” which listed 14 traits exhibited by an adult child of an alcoholic. The list itself provided substantive evidence that the environment can be an overriding factor in driving addiction and other self-destructive behaviors. Selected items from that laundry list are as follows:  

  • We either become alcoholics, marry them or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick abandonment needs.
  • We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
  • We have “stuffed” our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express our feelings because it hurts so much (Denial).

What’s more, many adult children of alcoholics find themselves attracted to individuals who are emotionally unavailable, states Verywell Mind. 

One’s environment can be a compelling catalyst for addiction. However, other factors can cause drug or alcohol addiction to bloom. Those factors are biological and psychological, in addition to environmental:

Biological Factors

  • Genes: According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a person’s genes can account for about half of their risk for developing an addiction. 
  • Physiology: The variations in liver enzymes that act to metabolize substances can influence the risk of alcohol use disorder, according to Psychology Today. 
  • Gender and other biological factors: Gender, ethnicity, and the presence of other disorders can heighten the risk for someone developing a substance use disorder (SUD) and an addiction. What’s more, males are more likely to develop an SUD than females. 

Psychological Factors

  • Personality: People who are impulsive and sensation-seeking are also more likely to abuse substances. Impulsivity is also a key factor that can cause people to relapse, according to Psychology Today.  
  • Trauma and abuse: Early exposure to trauma and abuse can overwhelm a person’s coping ability, making them more sensitive to distress. They may resort to the abuse of substances to numb those mental disturbances.  
  • Mental health: A person with depression, anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is more prone to developing an addiction. 

Environmental Factors

  • Home/family: Experiencing sexual, physical, or emotional abuse can make a person more likely to develop an addiction. Having a parent or sibling who has an SUD also increases that risk. Children who grew up without parental supervision or support or in traumatic or abusive households are also prone to developing an addiction. A poor parent-child relationship and divorce are also significant factors.
  • Accessibility and availability: When alcohol or drugs are easily available at home, work, school, or the surrounding community, the risk of abuse and eventual addiction also grows.
  • Friends and peers: The people you choose to surround yourself with can influence your behavior. If you are around people who abuse substances, you have a higher likelihood of using and declining into addiction. This is particularly the case during the adolescent years.   
  • Employment status: Someone who does not have a job or lacks the skills to obtain a well-paying one are also more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. According to Psychology Today, having a job and employable skills can provide the kind of financial and psychological benefits that lessen the likelihood of addiction.

How Professional Treatment Can Help

If you suspect that you or a loved one has a substance addiction, then it is critical that you seek professional addiction treatment. While it is typical that people relapse at a rate of 40 to 60 percent, a professional recovery program equips clients with evidence-based treatment, education, and skills to help them conquer addiction. 

What’s more, a reputable treatment program offers the support needed for a safe and comfortable recovery process, which is not typically available when someone attempts to quit drugs or alcohol on their own.  

Professional treatment begins with medical detoxification, a procedure administered through acute treatment. A medical staff provides around-the-clock care and supervision while addressing any withdrawal symptoms that arise from substance abuse and addiction.  

After detox, the next step on the continuum of care is clinical stabilization, which consists of comprehensive therapy and counseling that uncovers the underlying causes of addiction. 

Should additional counseling and therapy be needed, there is outpatient care, which provides those services on a part-time basis. 

After treatment is completed, clinicians can help you or a loved one get connected to a recovery community that can provide support and mentorship.

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