Why are some people more prone to addiction?

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Addiction is a very complicated subject and it’s something that scientists and psychologists are still trying to understand. What can be said is this: addiction does not discriminate – it can affect people of all ages, intelligence levels and backgrounds. The signs, symptoms and causes of addiction can vary from person to person, but still, addiction can have a damaging effect on anyone's livelihood and it's often difficult to manage without professional addiction treatment.

Despite the difficulty in ascribing exactly what makes some people more prone to addiction than others, countless studies have found that a combination of factors can play a part. Environment, genetics, family background, personality traits, and even stress can all make someone more likely to take drugs or drink alcohol in the first place. Experimenting with different substances doesn't automatically lead to addiction. However, when different factors contribute to the taking of drugs and alcohol, addictions can develop.

Although nobody can completely eliminate the possibility of becoming an addict, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has highlighted some of the most common risk factors that make some more susceptible to it than others.

Mental illness

Those who live with mental health conditions, like bipolar disorder or depression, are more likely to partake in substance abuse, which puts them at a higher risk of developing an addiction. This is often because of different chemical reactions in the brain, compared to those who don't live with mental health conditions.

It's been suggested that many people who suffer from mental health conditions attempt to self-medicate with drugs and/or alcohol in an effort to numb the symptoms associated with their conditions. However, this can lead to a continuous vicious cycle because drugs and alcohol can actually exacerbate symptoms and leave people feeling more anxious, depressed, demotivated or irritable.

People with higher IQs

There’s a common misconception that addiction is more likely to affect those who are less educated and who come from a poorer background, but many addicts are highly-paid and have successful careers. Many professionals, from bankers and doctors, to lawyers and CEOs, have fallen victim to substance abuse and it’s thought that the stress, isolation and failed relationships that may be associated with these occupations, can play a significant part in this.

Some studies also believe that children who have higher IQs are more likely to use psychoactive drugs such as marijuana, heroin and cocaine in their later years. One theory for this is that smarter people can intellectualise their drug use – which is different from rationalisation and denial. However, without definitive proof of causation, this is a theory that remains based upon conjecture.

Children of addicts

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the risk of addiction increases for those who have parents who are alcoholics or drug addicts. It has been found that the children of addicts are 45% to 79% more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol compared to the general population. Alcohol and drug addicted babies are also being born addicted to a substance if a mother has used a substance throughout pregnancy. This early dependency can then later transpire into an addiction.

It’s unknown whether this is because addiction is rooted in genetics, if it’s inherited, or if it’s because being exposed to drug taking and alcohol abuse increases the likelihood of experimentation with these substances.

Sensitivity to effects

Research has suggested that people who are more sensitive to stimulants and the effects of alcohol and drugs are at a higher risk of developing an addiction. A study carried out in 2012 also found that those with ‘negative emotionality’ have higher rates of drug abuse. This is a personality trait that dictates how frequently or intensely people experience dark emotions such as anger, stress or sadness.

A professional opinion of addiction

One theory is that people who suffer from ‘negative emotionality’ are more likely to turn to drugs and/or alcohol for relief, escapism or comfort. Professor of Behavioural Science at the University of Kentucky in the USA, Thomas Kelly, said that research has demonstrated a relationship between sensation seeking, impulsivity and the initiation of drug and alcohol use. Kelly also said that the emerging literature relates urgency, or emotion-based rash action, to heavy and problematic drug and alcohol use.

It’s estimated that two million people in the UK alone are currently fighting an addiction. If you or someone you know is suffering with an addiction to alcohol, please feel free to visit our alcohol addiction treatment and rehabilitation page for more information about the signs, symptoms and treatments that are available.

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