Why Some People Are More Vulnerable To Addiction
There are different reasons why people start using drugs or alcohol, but not all of them will become addicted.
People who are vulnerable to addiction usually have a physiological, genetic or psychological predisposition toward addictive behavior. When an individual is addicted chemically it is referred to as a physical dependence, whereas a behavioral addiction is a psychological dependence. A user can be genetically predisposed also, with up to a sixty percent possibility of developing an addiction. Current research is working to establish a comprehensive understanding of the neurobiology of addiction vulnerability. So here’s why some people are more vulnerable to addiction
A physical addiction is a repeated and uncontrollable abuse of drugs or alcohol. The substance of abuse will alter the normal release of neurotransmitters in the brain. The effect of this is that the reward center of the brain becomes over-stimulated by an increase of chemicals that cause feelings of pleasure, euphoria and well-being. This constant barrage of increased chemicals creates a neural environment that is vulnerable to addiction. The normal functioning of neural reuptake receptors is altered by the repeated exposure of these chemicals and become dependent on the increased amounts of the chemicals created by drug or alcohol intake.
Genetics also plays a role in contributing to addiction. The D2 subtype dopamine receptor responds to the chemical dopamine and produces feelings of pleasure in the reward center of the brain. Individuals who have a deficiency of this dopamine receptor prefer to increase their use of alcohol to compensate. They also compensate with increased levels of a specific cannabinoid receptor type CB1. Both genetic deficiencies appear to be the cause of compensating by abusing alcohol and cocaine. Genetically deficient individuals are less receptive to the natural effects of dopamine and prefer either the cocaine or alcohol alternative. This genetic deficiency is one of the most studied genetic vulnerabilities to substance abuse and addiction.
Environmental factors can also contribute to addiction. Individuals who have suffered trauma, abuse, neglect, poor family relations, living with an addict, peer pressure, financial problems, etc. are all vulnerable to addiction. These environmental problems produce constant stress that can cause the individual’s neurology to rewire itself in order to handle the increased amounts of cortisol produced by the stress. All these factors play a role in perpetuating addiction.
People who suffer from physical illness or chronic pain are also very vulnerable to substance abuse and addiction. Many people have become addicted to prescription opioid pain medications, which led to heroin abuse and addiction. Abuse of prescription stimulant medications and central nervous system depressants have also caused people to become addicted. Another factor contributing to addiction vulnerability is co-occurring mental disorders.
Drug abuse and mental disorders affect each other and can lead to more acute problems. When certain mental disorders are combined with specific drugs they can radically exacerbate each other. Common co-occurring disorders are: Bi-Polar, ADHD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Chronic Depression, Anxiety, Schizophrenia etc. Genetic vulnerabilities can also make a person susceptible to mental disorders and addiction. Both the addiction and the mental disorder must be treated for an addict to recover. There are comprehensive approaches to identify and evaluate both problems and several effective therapies are available to treat them.
Adolescence is a vulnerable stage of life for substance abuse and addiction. Peer pressure, stress, risk taking and more can all contribute to substance abuse. Research shows that the mesolimbic dopamine system of the brain is undergoing functional changes and reorganization during adolescence. These changes can cause more vulnerability toward substance abuse and addiction.
Statistics show that young people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four are more apt to abuse drugs and alcohol; and more men than women. In the U.S., Native Americans have the highest percentage of substance abuse at 15%, Caucasian people are at 9%, African Americans at 5% and Asian Americans at 3.5%. Studies also show people with higher IQ’s are more prone to substance abuse. Depending on risk factors, environments, IQ and more, you can see there are many reasons why certain people are more vulnerable than others to abuse and become addicted to drugs or alcohol.