Every individual’s reaction to drugs and alcohol is different.
Each person has a different genetic makeup and has had unique social experiences that influence the development of substance abuse and addiction. Due to varying factors, not every individual who uses drugs and alcohol becomes addicted. Substance abuse becomes an addiction when an individual no longer has any control whatsoever over their use of substances. Instead, they exhibit chronic, compulsive drug-seeking behaviors and continue to use substances in spite of the negative consequences it has for the user and those around them. While it is usually a choice for most people to start using drugs or alcohol, these substances can create changes in the brain that no longer allow continued use to be a choice. It becomes a detrimental craving that makes it nearly impossible for an individual to resist the impulse to continue using.
Substance use is often characterized by the ability to retain a certain amount of control over use. An individual may be able to limit their substance use to specific social situations or during specific periods of time, such as only using during the weekend. They may quit using substances without experiencing withdrawal symptoms and not use substances for extended periods of time.
Substance use becomes substance abuse when an individual no longer has the ability to control their behaviors. Over time, those who use substances will begin to develop chemical dependencies that make it nearly impossible for them to stop using on their own. Addiction is characterized by several traits including: increased tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, failure to control drug-using behaviors, inability to quit, and continued use in spite of negative consequences. Addiction is a compulsive, repetitive cycle of abuse that often requires professional assistance to bring to a close.
No single factor can determine whether or not an individual will become addicted to drugs and alcohol; however, there are specific risk factors that put individuals at greater risk for developing dependency. For example, an individual with a family history of addiction may be biologically predisposed to developing an addiction as well. This is also true in cases of family history with mental health disorders. The presence of mental health disorders puts individuals at an increased risk for addiction. Nearly six in ten individuals who struggle with addiction also have a co-occurring mental health disorder.
An individual’s environment can also put them at greater risk for addiction. Factors such as peer pressure, history of sexual or physical abuse, stress, and quality of life can all play a role in the development of addiction. Addiction may develop if an individual attempts to self-medicate for symptoms of various stressors. Instead, substance use exacerbates symptoms of the condition they are medicating and leaves them with additional struggles that worsen their condition.
The younger an individual is when they begin using substances, the more likely they are to develop an addiction. Although taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction, and adolescent’s particular developmental stage can make him or her more prone to developing dependencies. Areas of the brain that govern decision-making and self-control are still developing through adolescent years, making teens more likely to engage in risky behavior.
Early intervention is critical in treating substance abuse and addiction. It is important to educate young adults about the dangers of drug use and provide quality treatment for those who struggle with addiction. Addiction is not a phase that passes on its own. Through engagement with an addiction treatment center, individuals can work towards regaining a happy, sober life.
Not sure if you have a problem with alcohol or drugs? Click here to read “Am I an Alcoholic?”