Nature or Nature? What Causes Addiction?

We hear a lot about addiction as a disease but is it something you can ‘catch’ or something you’re born with? It’s natural to wonder why someone is an addict, whether there is an underlying genetic or environmental reason. There is no one answer.

There are genetic links to addictions such as alcoholism, but children are also influenced by the behaviour of those around them. If a child is raised in a family with heavy drinkers, they may see drinking regularly as something that defines adulthood. Children may also participate in the rituals of drinking, viewing acts like fetching another drink from the fridge as important tasks in family life.

Other factors such as depression, social isolation or anxiety can contribute to dependence and addiction. Taking drugs or drinking to feel more confident socially or to feel less alone may lead to a dependence. So too can using substances for self-soothing and self-medication for people with emotionally or physically unsafe home lives. Some people may develop a habit of ‘taking the edge off’ or having fun with friends that over time becomes a compulsion.

Some people are predisposed to addictive behaviour, whether it’s drinking or drugs, gambling or sex. This may be due to a sensitivity to stress that is eased in some way by the addiction. It could also be learnt behaviour from seeing relatives use substances to escape trauma or unhappiness.

In truth, every person’s addiction is different so it’s impossible to pinpoint a single cause. Whatever the reasons, the body’s response to drugs or alcohol can trigger physical and psychological cravings for more and this can lead to addiction.

Genes don’t cause addiction and neither does an unhappy family life. Many people who are the children of addicts do not go on to develop an addiction. Similarly, not every unhappy childhood leads to a life of addiction and despair. While children of addicts have been found to have a higher risk of addiction, whether this is caused primarily by genes or environment cannot be conclusively determined. Having a higher risk doesn’t automatically mean they will become addicts themselves.

What is true, though, is that recovery is not possible until a person can recognise the triggers for addictive behaviour. Identifying and eliminating or minimising triggers is an important step in the journey of recovery.

Through counselling and group therapy, we can help you to understand the emotional, mental and physical prompts that drive you to drink or take drugs. Our family therapy and addiction education provide the support and tools to help you move forward and regain control over your life.

If you would like to know more about the causes of addiction and our addiction treatment programs, please call or email us.

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