Addiction is often cast as the dark, dirty secret that nobody wants to talk about. Sure, it’s dark and can certainly feel dirty, but we definitely must talk about it. Perhaps the most frightening reason that it is a taboo topic is because addiction can happen to anyone. Addiction is a disease that captures a person so intensely that, no matter who you are or where you come from, it will be an intense struggle to overcome.
So, what makes addiction the ultimate equal opportunity experience? There are many reasons why a person may become addicted to something, spanning as far back as infancy or being as fundamental as brain chemistry. Even so, here are six reasons why addiction can, in fact, happen to anyone.
1. Poor Coping Mechanisms
Life is hard and stressful, there is no refuting that fact. Even the simplest of lives can throw curve balls that leave us desperately grasping for stability and comfort. While not all of us turn to consciousness-altering substances to help cope with the stress, most of us indeed have coping mechanisms.
Coping mechanisms are our natural way to stave off stress when it becomes too unbearable. In the most stressful moment, a particular coping mechanism can prove to be very helpful. After a family death, for example, perhaps staying in bed all day after the funeral can offer a respite from the exhausting grief that would otherwise be unattainable. When staying in bed turns into a long-term coping mechanism, however, is when a problem begins.
Some turn to food for immediate comfort while others turn to adrenaline-pumping activities. Many turn to alcohol and an unavoidable number turn to drugs. No matter the actual coping mechanism that arises, they all serve the same purpose: to put off the pain of stress for just a little bit longer. The best way to deal with the faulty coping mechanism, then, is to address the root of the stress.
2. The Pleasure Principle
The brain treats all pleasure in virtually the same way. It registers pleasure as a good thing and creates an insatiable drive in us to achieve more of this good thing. Whether we are eating a delicious chocolate cake, falling in love, or snorting a line of cocaine makes no difference to the brain. Our brain gets a taste of the chemical makeup of pleasure, usually found in a neurotransmitter such as dopamine, and seeks to repeat it as often as possible.
In evolutionary times, this proved to be very important for our basic survival. Though we have developed into a society where survival is a fairly easy task, our brains continue to work off of the pleasure principle. Instead of learning to enjoy pleasure in moderation, our brains greedily push us for more of it. Within just a few instances, we become addicted.
3. Genetics and Family History
While there is a huge misconception that addiction is actually a genetic trait, it is not. Instead, addiction is a secondary result of another genetic trait: impulsivity. The ability to control impulses, the very marker of being a human, is very much related to addiction. People with poor impulse control are more likely to experiment with things that may not be good for them, such as drugs or alcohol.
Poor impulse control with a family history of substance abuse sets up the perfect recipe for an addiction of any kind. It makes quitting a substance more difficult and it makes developing healthy coping mechanisms nearly impossible. While you may never suspect that you would become an addict, your brain may not hold much power to prevent it from happening.
4. The Social Setting
Drugs and alcohol are ubiquitous in social settings, whether you intend to participate in it or not. The social setting normalizes substance abuse and lowers its perceived danger. Eventually, many people end up trying a substance a step above what their original thresholds were, simply because of continuous exposure. Some may scoff at this, claiming that they would never be so weak. Perhaps this is true; perhaps some people would not be so easily influenced. The vast majority of humans, though, are very easily influenced by their peers.
5. We Live in an Overstimulated Society
We live in a society where information is literally at our fingertips and every gadget we could dream of is deliverable within 24 hours. When there is inevitably a lull in the day, one in which we find ourselves bored, it can often times bring about an uncomfortable sense of anxiety. For many, this pushes a desire for more stimulation. Some people become involved in sports clubs, other pick up crafting hobbies. Others, still, find comfort in substance abuse. In an age where being still is never enough, drugs and alcohol provide a quick remedy to the discomfort that stillness often brings.
6. Substance Abuse in the LGBTQ Community
Certain communities are associated substance abuse more so than other communities. For example, addiction is a greater risk in the LGBTQ community than the general population. Compared to the general population, those in the LGBTQ community are more likely to participate in substance abuse and are more likely to start at a younger age. They are more likely to be exposed to harder drugs, such as heroin and methamphetamine, and are more likely to abuse substances into old age. While identifying as LGBTQ does not necessarily destine a person to a life of substance abuse, it is worth noting that it can significantly increase the risk of addiction.