What are the causes of addiction?

A chronic disease that kills 100 Americans a day. With a treatment rate of  only 11% of it’s diseased. Over 100,000 deaths in the last two years.  


Drug addiction or substance use disorder as it is often called, is a disease that leads to the inability to control your brain and your behaviors. With over 23 million Americans affected by drug and alcohol addiction, you’re bound to know someone that is an addict or is close to one. Even if they are as close as a brother or sister it can be hard to understand the causes and reasoning behind addiction. It feels especially confusing as everyone’s case seems a little different. Addiction knows no boundaries, and it has an effect on everyone. From thriving CEO’s to the homeless and abandoned, addiction doesn’t know any social or economic status. From marathoners to couch potatoes, addiction doesn’t discriminate based on physical health. 


Now addiction doesn’t necessarily start with the first time you use a substance. Not everyone is an addict after one drink, one cigarette, or one joint.  Drugs and alcohol trick the brain into releasing more dopamine than it normally would. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a big role in how we feel happiness. Due to where dopamine is released, it can give a false sense of happiness after using a substance. Over time addictive behaviors have been proven to deplete that dopamine release, which makes the brain crave these substances in larger and larger amounts as time goes. This is in an attempt to feel the way you felt the first time using said substance. 


With a larger focus on mental health in America, there is no doubt at this point that some of us have a predisposition to addiction based on genetics and/or our upbringing. One of these predispositions could be that based on the person’s genetics, their brain might not regularly release as much dopamine as the average person’s. The increased release of dopamine in the brain after first use of a substance could give a feeling that might have never been felt before. That makes it very understandable that a person could crave that feeling over and over again.


In 2004, a study conducted by scientists at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Duke University Medical Center revealed a big breakthrough in studies on genetics and addiction. They discovered a specific protein deficiency in the DNA of mice that showed these mice as more susceptible to cocaine addiction and also less likely to be able to learn their way out of a maze. Through these studies they found that the absence of this specific brain protein caused the mice to be unresponsive to the addictive tendencies of drug abuse. This helped pave the way to many studies and discovering that much of addiction is caused by deficiencies in proteins in human genetic coding.  


More causes of addiction could very well be nature and nurture. That phrase would traditionally have an ‘or’ in place of the ‘and’, but in this case it makes more sense to list both. The nature portion is not necessarily about how a person is raised by their parents specifically, but about their environment as a whole. As can be imagined, often the rate of addiction in children spikes in communities that are surrounded by normalized drug and alcohol use. The blame could be pointed in many directions. This could be parents, older siblings, mentors, teachers, influential people in the media, or even just friends. The biggest danger is when this happens as a child. 


There is a large correlation between age of first use and the rates of addiction. At early ages the human brain creates habits that often are life lasting. This is often due to nurture or lack thereof. A recent study shows that over eight million children live with at least one parent with a substance abuse problem. Now having a parent with a substance abuse problem doesn’t always mean that their child will also have those addictive tendencies. Another cause has been shown as parents that don’t nurture and educate enough about the causes and consequences of addiction. Being introduced to substance abuse at a young age could lead to stunted growth in the development of the brain.   


There are a lot of proven causes of addiction. Genetics, environment, education, or otherwise. Addiction does not discriminate based on class, physical health, or otherwise. We are all candidates for addiction, but it’s not all bad news. There are plenty of ways to avoid and recover from addiction. Keep an eye on the blog for more!