How Addiction Can Happen To You
Jun 27, 2016

Addiction to drugs or alcohol can be one of the most devastating things to happen in a person's life. It can destroy their relationships, ruin their finances, and end their careers and educations.

It is easy for someone who isn't addicted to think that a substance abuse problem is easy to avoid, and yet those very people often end up addicted themselves.

Why do so many people develop a potentially deadly problem that seems so preventable? It's a complex issue, one that has been addressed by the Centers for Disease Control, treatment centers, and countless addiction specialists and support groups.

What they have found often comes down to three common factors, of which certain aspects make perfect sense while others may be surprising. Let's review these in hopes that you will be able to recognize an impending problem before you or a loved one gets tangled up in substance abuse.

Coping With Stress

Perhaps the least surprising finding of those investigators has been that stress is a critical factor in spurring drug and alcohol abuse. People with family difficulties, job problems, financial issues, or other worries will often turn to drugs or alcohol to get an escape. The time that they are under the influence gives them at least a brief reprieve from the problem.

Of course, when they sober up, the initial problem is still there and may have even been compounded with others that developed while the user was impaired. This could include money wasted in purchasing substances, duties neglected in the home or at work, or problematic confrontations with family or co-workers.

There are still strong efforts to discourage this avenue of coping with stress, but there have always been people who slip through the cracks. A continued emphasis on effective means of stress relief and an overall push against any form of substance abuse will continue to help the problem.

Underlying Factors

Addiction is a highly heritable problem. There are strong genetic indications that tell us alcoholics and drug addicts have some type of predisposition to their problems, and that the tendency to abuse substances is something that they may share with their children. The balance of this factor in a child's likelihood to become addicted can be difficult to measure against the influence of being raised in an addict's home, but the genetic component clearly plays a part.

Mental illness is also a very powerful influence. The problem with this situation can stem from the person's acceptance of medication as a cure for their particular issue. For example, a bipolar person who controls the condition using medication begins to view drugs as an effective solution, so when the prescribed dosage or types cannot meet the person's needs, abuse can ensue.

Succumbing To Peer Pressure

Dating back to the early years of the US war on drugs in the 1980's, there has been a misrepresentation of the role of peer pressure in drug and alcohol abuse. In educational materials, the process was usually depicted as one young person confronting another with some type of drug and pressuring him or her directly to consume it.

The reality is very different. Peer pressure can be as simple as a workplace conversation in which a group discusses plans to visit a bar after work, causing the newest member of the staff to feel obligated to go as a means of fitting in.

It can be an athlete who sees friends succeeding by using painkillers to manage injuries, or a person who sees a relative coping with stress by taking a valium.

The point is that it isn't always a direct urging to partake. The social environment can be a primary source of the pressure, with no deliberate solicitation by other users. The problem is further exacerbated when the other user's negative impacts aren't seen by the new user, reinforcing the perception that the substance must have been safe.

With so much power to weaken a person's resolve and take away willpower, addiction is a problem best cured with prevention. Once an alcohol or drug problem takes over, it can be very difficult to overcome, and it's at that stage that the person's life can be seriously impacted.


Written by Jane Brown