What Causes Drug Abuse and What Makes Things Addictive
If you asked a random cross-section of people the question, “What are the causes of addiction?” you’d likely hear two primary responses. The first group will tell you that addiction happens when bad people have done bad things like taking drugs. The second group will believe that addiction is a medical illness that’s unpreventable.
Each of these answers represents a bias based on the individual’s exposure to someone who battles addiction. Perhaps they had an aunt or uncle who was an alcoholic. Or perhaps their former friend struggled with heroin addiction and stole their favorite piece of jewelry to purchase drugs.
Virtually each of us knows someone who abuses alcohol or drugs. However, our own interactions with those users vary and leave an indelible mark on our perception. Some addictions are attached to the stigma of being the consequence of being a “bad person.” The reality, however, is that anyone can become a victim of addiction; it can strike anyone.
What is Addiction?
Addiction is defined as a combination of physical and/or mental dependence on a particular behavior or substance. Health organizations around the globe recognize this disease. Therefore, many insurance plans and Medicaid cover the costs of addiction treatment.
Yet, some people still believe that addiction isn’t real. They believe that users choose alcohol, drugs, and destructive behaviors. However, those who struggle with addiction will assure you that they do not choose the disease. They never wanted to suffer or wake up every day devoting their lives to the painful cycle of addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Mental Illness: One of Many Causes of Addiction
Frequently, addiction is a co-occurring disorder. This means that those who struggle also face coping with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive-disorder (OCD), or many other mental illnesses. Those struggling with addiction are using harmful substances to self-medicate to cope with the feelings triggered by the underlying mental illness.
Those who suffer from anxiety are drawn to opiates, benzodiazepines, or alcohol to calm their thoughts. On the other hand, those with depression feel better when they combine cocaine and alcohol to feel more alive. While it’s not always that cut and dry, those are common combinations that sufferers use to squash those familiar negative feelings they experience as a result of the mental illness.
In fact, it’s not uncommon for someone fighting addiction to be unaware that they may have a mental illness. This is because alcohol and drugs numb the painful symptoms of the disease, just as a surgical patient numbs pains with prescription drugs.
Physical pain causes many people to seek prescription painkillers. These are often opiate drugs. Unfortunately, this can often lead to an addiction to painkillers that leads to the eventual use of street opiates like heroin. At this point, the addiction becomes more dangerous as there are a variety of substances combined to create street drugs. The causes of addiction can be incidental, and in this case, anyone is at risk.
Now that you know about the causes of addiction,
Learn more about the solutions.
What are Gateway Drugs?
Addiction doesn’t discriminate, it accepts all people.
There are many different kinds of people. All can become a victim of addiction. However, every person uniquely responds to drugs and alcohol. This why some people drink alcohol but don’t become an alcoholic. It’s also why some people can take Vicodin post-surgery but don’t become an opiate addict.
People often associate marijuana as “the gateway drug.” That’s dangerous thinking. Every drug can be a gateway drug when someone who struggles with addiction takes it. For some people, using alcohol or drugs creates a chain reaction in which their brain tells their body to seek the drug and use again despite any dangers. Those who don’t face that strong reaction don’t become addicted to substances.
The bottom line? The only way to avoid gateway drugs is to abstain from every drop of alcohol and every drug.
The Stigma of Mental Health and Addiction
Both addiction and mental illnesses often come with a stigma. This is a negative connotation or stereotype in how they are perceived by others. People who carry this prejudice do so because they fear it, don’t know enough about it or have had brushes with others who have struggled.
Of those diseases, the one that carries the most stigma is addiction. To the world at large, addicts are perceived negatively. They are thought of as “unworthy,” “lowlifes,” “scumbags,” or “junkies.” People who judge others in this unfair manner are usually uneducated enough about the subject to form this opinion.
Here are some facts about addiction:
- It’s a medically recognized disease
- It claims lives every day
- There is not a cure
This is the unenviable reality that addicts must wake up and face before they can begin to heal.
Addiction Education Is a Crucial First Step
There is a crucial first step before most people can fully understand the disease: Education.
People wonder “Why doesn’t my loved one just lay down the bottle/needle?” There’s a simple answer. The disease, in part, controls them and overtakes logical thinking. A person battling addiction is compelled to abuse drugs or alcohol to squash the painful feelings and thoughts that make their life feel practically unlivable.
On top of that, the addicted person only gains short-term relief when they use. Then, when the substance wears off, they feel staggering guilt and shame because they can’t stop. This creates a destructive cycle in which they feel that they have no chance of overcoming their addictions as if it’s impossible to quit using. Tragically, many sufferers don’t get the help they need and die from the affliction. That is one of the causes of addiction: it’s a vicious cycle.
Have Hope, Get Help!
If you, or your loved one, faces the challenge of overcoming an alcohol or drug addiction, there are resources available. Seek treatment and participate in self-help groups that will help you stay substance-free.
Education is the key to shedding the stigmas associated with addiction, as well as the causes of addiction. Remember some important truths:
- Addiction does not indicate an immoral person
- Unwanted behaviors are caused by addiction
- Those who suffer from addiction are appalled by their own behavior
- Addiction affects the entire family unit
Remember that there is hope for any person at any stage of addiction. Starting over is always an option when the sufferer is ready to do so. Many people have conquered addiction after hitting rock bottom; they now enjoy a quality, sober lifestyle. If you or your loved one seek sobriety, they need to become an active participant and go for it.
Finally, remember that relapses frequently do happen, but they don’t mean the end of the journey. Addiction is a disease that stays with you for life. There is no cure. But, with treatment and hard work, sobriety can still be in your future.
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