What causes addiction?

As a mother of young children, I find myself wondering what makes someone become addicted. Perhaps if I knew how it happens, I could prevent it. Wouldn’t that be nice if we could stop addiction from happening to our loved ones. But I know it isn’t really possible.

It’s not realistic to think that I will be able to control everything that my child is exposed to. And the truth is, I could do everything right (which I don’t) and they could still end up making unhealthy choices (which they do). I do know that the fewer risk factors children are exposed to, the more likely they are to avoid addiction.

The cause of addiction isn’t from just one thing, but a combination of different issues. If you have ever wondered where an addiction comes from, I’ve compiled a list of just a few of the contributing factors.

1. FEELS GOOD – When you use a drug, alcohol, or any addictive substance/behavior it feels good. The reward centers of your brain remember that good feeling and wants more. People who are anxious, depressed, or generally unhappy notice a more dramatic effect than someone would if they were a mentally healthy person. After repeated exposure to the addiction, the brain is no longer able to produce the feel good chemicals on its own which leads to more use.

2. MENTAL HEALTH – Ever hear the term self-medicating? This is when someone is using alcohol or drugs to help themselves feel better, rather than dealing with the underlying issue in a healthier way. An addiction becomes an addiction because at some point it was helpful. Maybe it was numbing the effects of a traumatic experience, relieving anxiety, or helping someone to feel happy and confident. I have yet to meet a person with an addiction who didn’t have a mental health issue prior to the substance use or behavior.

3. GENETICS – According to Harvard Health, variants in certain genes may contribute to addiction. Genetics play a role in the processing of substances and is why people react differently to substances. Also, personality traits are inherited and certain traits can contribute to addiction. For instance, impulsiveness and risk taking are common personality traits of addicted individuals. Don’t worry, your children are not doomed to become addicts just because it runs in your family. What plays a bigger role in addiction is what we are exposed to.

4. ENVIRONMENT – Unlike genetics, our environment is something that we can control! Children who grow up in a healthy home environment with no exposure to addictive substances or behaviors are at less risk of developing a problem. Also, keeping an open dialogue about addiction is helpful for educating your children about the effects of substances. Rather than preaching to your children to “just say no”, a better approach may be to teach them about the negative consequences when something is used in excess and allowing them to make their own choice (which they will do anyway). Modeling healthy behaviors, mental stability, and self-care are paramount in raising confident, well-adjusted kids.

I know that one day, a long, long, long time from now I will have to let my kids go out on their own and trust that they will make good decisions. So today, while they’re still young, I do what I can to encourage health, happiness, and confidence. And this is what I hope they will see in me. A person who no longer needs substances to feel good.

If you or someone you know needs help with a mental health or substance use problem, please contact me.