Substance abuse does not always result in an addiction; however, the risk of an addiction increases when an individual abuses drugs or alcohol. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the complexity of an addiction makes recovery difficult (1). The NIDA also states that substance abuse interferes with the way that neurons in the brain communicate (2). Drugs cause the body to release more of the natural chemicals in the brain than usual, which alters the way that an individual feels about normal life. Even though substance abuse impacts the brain, it does not always result in addictive behavior.
Factors that Cause Addictions
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (3) says that addiction is a disease of the brain. When a loved one abuses drugs or alcohol, he/she increases the risk of addiction because the brain’s reward center and natural communication system alters. Long-term substance abuse further increases the risk of addiction; however, some individuals do not become addicted to a substance after abusing it.
Factors that contribute to a drug or alcohol addiction include:
- Genetics or family history
- Traumatic experiences, particularly in childhood
- Social environments
- The age when drugs or alcohol are first abused
- The drug itself
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence explains that each individual has unique factors that contribute to substance abuse and addiction (4). When he/she has several risk factors, the possibility of an addiction increases. Protective factors, such as genetic factors that reduce the risk of substance abuse, make it easier to avoid drugs or alcohol.
Reasons for Abusing Drugs
Although risk factors impact the development of an addiction, initial substance abuse also plays an important role in the development of an addiction. The NIDA states that individuals use or abuse substances for a variety of reasons (5). Common reasons for initial drug use include:
- Curiosity about the substance
- Feelings of pleasure
- Self-medicating or attempting to feel better
- Inappropriate coping with trauma or other negative experiences
- Attempts to enhance cognitive function
- Accidental substance abuse after injuries or legitimate medical situations
Although the initial abuse of a substance is usually voluntary, an addiction occurs when the body builds up a tolerance and the brain craves the substance. Addictive behavior means that a loved one uses a substance despite the obvious consequences, such as health problems or lost relationships.
Treating an Addiction
When concerns about a loved one occur, consider a treatment program with personalized plans and a variety of approaches to the recovery process. Each individual has unique risk factors and reasons for abusing a substance, so a treatment plan must address the underlying causes of addiction so that a loved one will focus on the next step of recovery.
Treating an addiction starts with understanding the causes and focusing on realistic solutions. An appropriate treatment plan focuses on each individual’s specific needs, including the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects that impact temptations and make recovery more difficult. Long-term recovery success begins with the first step: obtaining help from professionals.
Substance abuse does not always result in an addiction, but it does increase the risk of addictive behaviors and long-term consequences. When you want to assist a loved one with the recovery process, focus on encouraging professional treatment. A treatment professional can help you establish a realistic plan for recovery and maintain long-term goals for a healthier and brighter future.