Causes of Drug Addiction

Dominique W. Brooks
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Recognizing the causes of drug addiction can help prevent a person from becoming an addict. The motivators behind initial drug use or experimentation can lead to long-term use and becoming an addiction over time.

Possible Drug Addiction Causes

Drug addiction can be found in many forms. A person can be addicted to alcohol, prescription drugs, inhalants or other street drugs (cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, etc.). Experimentation and curiosity are the first factors that draw many people into trying drugs. They want to feel that "high," the sense of euphoria that comes with drug use. While this may lead to recreational use of drugs (using only in certain situations), it rarely leads to actual addiction unless other factors are present.

Environmental Causes

A person's environment plays a large role in the development of drug addiction. Some people turn to drug use to cope with problems in their real lives. Being around drugs and being exposed to addicts can also lead to drug addiction. If a family member or close friend uses or is addicted to drugs, it seems more acceptable for other members to engage in similar behavior. It becomes a tolerated activity.

Peer pressure is also a factor in turning people into drug addicts. Contrary to popular belief, peer pressure can happen at any age. Adults fall prey to peer pressure to fit into new social classes, new workplaces and new neighborhoods. Teenagers fight peer pressure on everything from looks to alcohol to sex to drugs. In fact, using crystal meth is becoming a way for many teenage girls to fight the pressure that comes with feeling the need to be thin and attractive.

Genetic Causes

Not everyone who tries a drug will become addicted to it. Researchers have determined that some people do have a genetic predisposition to becoming addicted to drugs. For example, the dopamine D2 receptor A1 gene has been found to be more common in alcoholics and cocaine abusers than it is in the general public. Researchers believe this gene is linked to compulsive or feeling-seeking behavior. However, some people in the general public have this gene without developing an addiction; addiction likely involves more than just a gene and requires other factors to play a role.

Researchers have also found other genes that may be associated with an increased -- or decreased -- susceptibility to drug (or alcohol) addiction as well. The gene CYP2A6 is more common in non-smokers and causes nausea and dizziness after smoking; people who have two copies of the ALDH*2 gene variation are less likely to become alcoholics.

The interaction of genes and addiction is a complex topic so scientists are still working on finding out the exact meaning of the genetic causes of drug addiction.

Developmental Causes

Events that occur during development can increase one's risk of becoming addicted. Confused parental environments, childhood experiences, and early drug use can all have an influence. Adolescents are in a very vulnerable position because of their development -- or lack of it. The earlier drug use begins, the more likely it is to progress to abuse. Drug use changes the way the brain functions and makes it more likely that a person will become addicted; drug use makes it difficult to make clear decisions, control your behavior, and to feel OK without the drug. Adolescents also lack all of the appropriate decision-making skills so they are more prone to risk-taking behavior like drug use.

Traumatic Causes

Drug use and abuse may also be a result of traumatic experiences. Sexual assault, a history of abuse, natural disasters, or post-traumatic stress disorder can all serve as triggers for drug or alcohol addiction.

Mental Health Causes

Drug addiction can also be caused by using drugs to mask other mental problems. For example, depressed people frequently use drugs to escape their sad feelings. Schizophrenics find that some street drugs can control their hallucinations. In some cases, the drug use itself may lead to mental problems.

Stopping the Vicious Cycle

Once a person becomes a drug abuser, he or she can become addicted. The positive reinforcements of using drugs are often getting "high," escaping pain and feeling good. However, once a person becomes a habitual abuser, the negative aspects come out when he or she is not using. Physical withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, pain and shaking may occur. Psychological symptoms such as depression and the inability to experience pleasure can also develop. Therefore, people typically become addicted not to continue the positive reinforcements, but because they cannot overcome the negative ones.

The reasons for drug addiction can give the health care providers and drug treatment counselors avenues of treatment for people with addictions. By determining some of the reasons behind the addictions, the providers can develop treatment plans focused specifically on the patient's particular issues.

Causes of Drug Addiction