Let’s suppose that two people consume alcohol at the same rate over time. One person may become addicted while the other does not, but why? The simple answer to this question is: there is no straightforward answer. Some may find this response frustrating, as it may not satiate their need for certainty. One thing we have learned from advancements in technology and subsequent findings in neurobiology is that addiction is a much more intricate and convoluted condition than we once thought. There are, however, some clues that can help us anticipate who may become addicted.
Why Do We Care in the First Place?
It’s natural for us as human beings to be curious about the underlying causes of health issues so we can treat—and when possible, prevent—negative outcomes. With new studies in addiction literature being published all the time, the way we conceptualize and understand the condition needs to be adaptive and flexible in order to remain relevant. Different theories come and go as our collective understanding of addiction becomes more comprehensive and integrative. Scholars who study addiction have taken particular interest in etiology—the study of cause, or manner of causation of a disease or condition—as this dictates the direction of future treatment methods, allowing us to effectively reach more people in need.
What Does Current Research Tell Us?
There are many unknowns as to why some people are adversely impacted by their drinking or drug use and become addicted while others do not. However, what we do know is this: some people have a greater likelihood of developing substance use disorders than others. The most cutting-edge theory (based on a bio-psycho-socio-spiritual approach and knowledge from neuroscience and attachment theory) finds that individuals with dysregulated brains and social capacities are most vulnerable to this condition.
What Increases the Likelihood of Addiction?
Genetics are still the number one predictor of addiction, followed by early onset of first use. Data findings have demonstrated the validity of these factors, but there are others that treatment professionals must also consider when diagnosing substance use disorders. Aside from a family history of addiction and the age a person began using drugs or alcohol, they have to look at the complex interaction between a combination of biological, psychological, social, and spiritual determinants, including:
- Environment: Those who grow up around peers who use drugs and alcohol are more likely to begin using themselves. This is especially true for children of alcoholic parents who repeat behaviors they observed in their childhood.
- Potency of substance used: Certain drugs, such as fentanyl and heroin, are stronger and more addictive than others.
- How substance is consumed: Injecting a drug produces a greater dopamine rush, making a user that much more likely to become dependent on it.
- Mental health: Those already struggling with mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression, may be more likely to seek out unhealthy coping mechanisms for dealing with stress, including drinking or using drugs.
It is important to note that nobody is fully immune to addiction, though a person’s addictive tendencies may vary in terms of intensity and pervasiveness based on the risk factors mentioned above. Like many other chronic diseases, some people will be more at-risk of becoming addicted than others. There is no definitive way of knowing. Therefore, it is critical for everyone to examine their individual risk factors and take precautions to prevent the onset or development of substance use disorders.