Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease with social causes and consequences. No single factor can predict whether or not a person will become addicted to alcohol or drugs.
Addiction is influenced by a number of factors. These include a person’s:
- Genetic makeup
- Social environment – including family life, peer groups and exposure to alcohol & drugs
Physical addiction occurs when repeated use of a drug alters the way your brain feels pleasure. As a person drinks alcohol or takes drugs the brain releases the chemical dopamine which stimulates the ‘reward circuits of the brain. Thus the brain associates drinking alcohol and drugs with a pleasurable reward. The brain forms lasting memories associating drugs or alcohol with this reward and so the drug-taking and drinking become compulsive. As addiction to alcohol and drugs becomes established, neurochemical changes take place in the brain of the user which affects their self-control and decision-making processes.
Other factors that contribute to addiction:
For some professionals and executives the pressures faced at work cause mental and physical exhaustion – also known as burnout. Some professionals who experience stress and burnout begin to self-medicate – using alcohol or drugs such as cocaine to enhance their performance and alertness.
When a person is unable to cope with anxiety they may turn to alcohol or drugs as a way of protecting themselves against the anxiety.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Trauma has a powerful effect on behaviour and is one of the factors that can contribute to addiction. Those who have suffered some trauma may experience sudden and overwhelming feelings of panic and fear. A common way to deal with these terrifying moments is to “self-medicate” with alcohol and drugs.