Anyone struggling with addiction or even those interested in the condition are often curious as to how a person ends up with an addiction in the first place. To clarify, people can become addicted to many things including alcohol, drugs, sex, and food. But how does it happen? Are genetics the cause or a specific way a person was raised or friends they had? What about childhood trauma or some kind of religious or spiritual element?
The fact is there isn’t a single, identifiable reason for addiction, despite incredible advances in related research. One thing that is clear and commonly agreed upon is external factors strongly influence human behavior. Consider how much stress is induced by stressful environments which then go on to affect behavior. Working in a volatile situation, for example, will almost always carry over to a person’s actions and mood when they go home for the day. Indeed, even society’s definition of what is “normal” influences labeling and impacts people, and there’s really nothing we can do about it.
Research supports the fact that addiction is without a doubt created and maintained by external factors. We also know that people who pal around with those who abuse alcohol or drugs are far likelier to take part in the same activity. In addition to our friends, many other environmental factors have an enormous impact on our behavior such as parents, culture, physical association, and media hype. To help further understand, let’s review some common contributing factors to addiction:
This is a biggie and is, in fact, one of the strongest external influences on addictive behavior in younger age groups. Parenting styles run the gamut and along with approaches to supervision and a wide range of family interactions, the family environment plays a big role in mental health development and possible struggles with addiction.
Humans naturally develop coping strategies for stressful situations but when learned in the midst of adversity, a well-intended strategy can lead to ill-advised or even self-destructive actions. Physical, verbal, emotional or sexual abuse; divorce scenarios, and absentee parents can all have a significant impact on developing future substance abuse problems.
Social media is one of the most influential driving forces in today’s society and love it or hate it; the movement is here to stay. There are many good sides to social media but a great many downsides as well. Imagine a young person struggling with depression or similar emotional problems and all day long he is showered with stories and images of attractive, carefree, happy people having the times of their lives. That kind of imagery can make a person feel even more isolated, inadequate, and puts a big hit on self-esteem.
In fact, we see increasing evidence that high social media use can aggravate mental health struggles in people already afflicted with them and the bad news is this trend is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.
Our friends play an incredibly important role in our lives and this is even more evident in younger ages. However, parental advice to “choose your friends well” carries some weight. If you consistently associate with others who regularly use drugs or alcohol, it becomes exceedingly difficult to avoid the same pattern and develop similar behavior. We like to feel wanted and that we belong and this feeling is an often irresistible force in maintaining sensible decisions involving addiction. Peer pressure is real and although strongest in younger people, rears its head in adult years as well.
If a person is more prone to relaxed opinions about drug use are certainly likelier to join in the party or at least sample the goods and that is what leads to patterns of substance abuse later in life.
The power of media
Building on generations of influence, modern-day media including TV, movies, and ubiquitous video games have a tremendous impact on people’s lives. Substance abuse and its related renegade behavior are typically glorified to the point of sensory saturation and can leave people with off-kilter expectations of how life “should be.” Indeed, constant portrayals of violence, sex, and drugs are siren songs for young people who often believe their world can be like that too. And the epidemic is not limited to graphic video games; everyday commercials and other video content is a constant barrage of temptation.
The physical environment presents a laundry list of addictive triggers. Grabbing a “couple of drinks” after work, a few beers watching a football game, girls’ and guys’ nights out, and just being at a favorite hangout can be hotbeds of temptation and craving and when those behaviors are repeated, trouble brews. A person can develop conditioning to a specific place and once habits are in place, they can be hard to break, especially when associated with alcohol or drug abuse.
Interestingly, studies have shown that particular reactions and expectations to a drug can take effect after just three to four exposures to a setting and will remain locked in place until the problem is addressed. While all of these examples are viewed as risk factors, there are certainly many more reasons why someone might develop an addiction and typically a host of influences are at play. Becoming familiar with environmental triggers goes a long way in helping take steps toward control and recovery.