Whether you love an addict or you are one, confronting an addiction to substances like drugs or alcohol is scary. When you discover that someone is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it’s completely natural to want to find out what “caused” their addiction. After all, many people believe that understanding what causes an addiction can help to “fix” it. While there is some truth to this — rehab is designed to address the factors that led to addiction — it’s not always easy to identify the cause of an addiction on your own.
Because addiction is typically the combination of several factors — genetic, environmental and social. And, while many addicts share similar stories, their spiral into addiction is a unique path that wound around many of their own individual circumstances. This can make it difficult to know how to support and understand your loved one, not only as they seek treatment initially, but also in the days and weeks that follow their formal treatment.
You see, just because someone completes their formal rehab program does not mean they are done being an addict. The real work of overcoming an addiction is done when the individual begins to rebuild their life outside of a treatment facility. It takes hard work, dedication and intense effort to reconcile old hurts and move forward into new jobs, new relationships and a new way of viewing the world.
Table of Contents
- What is Addiction?
- Genetics and Environment: Which Causes Addiction?
- Environmental Risk Factors for Addiction
- Creating a Sober Living Environment
- Treatment Options
What Is Addiction?
An addiction is a disease that affects parts of your brain responsible for feelings of pleasure and relaxation. It can have a serious impact on a person’s behavior because addictive substances have properties that can impact judgment, actions and more. When a person is addicted to a substance, they cannot control their urge to use it, no matter how destructive their behavior has become. They will destroy their jobs and relationships to get a fix, and, depending on how bad things get, they can even find themselves in legal trouble as a result.
Some well-meaning people believe that an addict can simply choose to stop using. But that’s simply not true. Addiction, just like heart disease or diabetes, is a chronic condition that has altered the way a person’s body functions. When someone becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, their brain chemistry has been altered to the point that they cannot stop using harmful substances and their ability to function normally has been compromised.
While this condition does not have to be permanent — there is help and hope for those struggling with addiction — it is important to understand that someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol is going to need professional help to work through their addiction. They are also going to need to make significant changes to their habits, environment and relationships to have lasting sobriety.
Whether you are personally struggling with an addiction, or you are concerned for a loved one, understanding the changes necessary to support recovery starts with understanding risk factors associated with addiction and how these risk factors can be lessened to make recovery easier in the long run.
Genetics and Environment: Which Causes Addiction?
There has long been a debate about whether addiction is caused by a person’s genetic makeup or the environment they inhabit. Researchers believe genetics can influence a person’s predisposition toward addiction to substances once they begin using them. In other words, some people may have a gene or genetic component that predisposes them to addictive behaviors if they are introduced to certain substances.
Environment, which is defined as family beliefs and attitudes, peer group, community and more, is also believed to heavily influence addiction because these are typically the factors that lead an individual to try drugs or alcohol initially. When a person is encouraged to try drugs or alcohol, either socially or as a coping mechanism, they may continue to use these substances and, over time, their use may spiral into addiction.
Truthfully, most doctors and researchers agree that addiction is the result of a combination of genetics and environment. One does not necessarily outweigh another, and both should be a significant consideration when determining the best course of treatment for an addict. For example, if a person’s father was addicted to alcohol, there may be something in their genetic makeup that will also lead them to become an alcoholic if they begin drinking.
While it is important to understand the hereditary component of addiction, knowing the environmental causes of addiction and the way the environment can influence addiction and recovery is essential. Why? Because if you do not understand the impact that an addict’s environment has on their ability to get clean, you are not setting them up for success after they complete their formal rehab and treatment program.
Environmental Risk Factors for Addiction
As we mentioned before, environmental risk factors are the things and people that an addict is surrounded by on a regular basis. Typically, they fall into one of six categories:
Not only does the type of family a person grew up in have a big impact on the likelihood that they will become an addict, but it also will have a huge impact on their ability to recover from addiction and pull their life back together. For example, if an individual grew up in a home with a lot of conflicts or without an adult they could look up to, they may be more disposed toward addiction. Individuals who grew up in a home where alcohol or drug use was prevalent are also at higher risk of becoming addicted later on.
A student’s performance in school, their commitment to their education and the availability of quality friendships can be a factor in addiction. This is true for adolescents, teens and even young adults who may be facing the college party scene. If an individual is older, their work environment may play a big role, especially if they are employed in a high-stress, high-stakes job and are in need of a release from all of the pressure.
A person whose friends engage in drug use and abuse is far more likely to do the same. In fact, more than any other factor, this is considered the biggest risk factor for addiction. However, it’s not just close friends that can influence a person’s use of drugs or alcohol. It could be an extended peer group at school or the general attitude of the school’s student body when it comes to drugs or alcohol. Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, a person who is bullied or not included into any of their school’s peer groups may seek solace in drugs or alcohol to cope with their loneliness.
Media also can play a big role in influencing this kind of behavior, particularly in adolescents and teens who watch actors on TV or in movies engaging in these kinds of behaviors. Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol are often glorified in the media, being used and joked about in ways that seem fun and easy and don’t always show the consequences of their use.
If a person lives in a community where drug use — and abuse — is prevalent, they will be more likely to fall into it themselves.
There is a proven link between sexual abuse and adult addiction to drugs or alcohol, particularly if the abuse occurred during a person’s childhood. While this has some connection with our earlier mention of the link between family environment and addiction, it is important to understand trauma as its own entity because of the increased risks associated with individuals who have experienced sexual abuse.
6. Mental Illness
Addiction can also be a byproduct of mental illness, especially anxiety and depression. People who suffer from a mental illness may find that using drugs or alcohol to “self-medicate” makes them feel better. Sometimes they may not know they have a mental illness — they may just know that having a few drinks before a party helps them calm down. But, eventually, this can spiral out of control because someone who is using alcohol or drugs in this manner will gradually need to use more and more to achieve the same “high” they experienced in the beginning.
Creating a Sober Living Environment
It can be hard to look back and realize that some of the factors listed above led someone you love down the road of addiction. However, it’s not too late to make some changes to encourage health and healing. Just as a person’s environment can create risk factors for addiction, it can also play an instrumental role in helping an addict work through recovery and successfully get their addiction under control.
A professional rehabilitation program — even the best ones out there — cannot follow an addict out into the “real” world. Once an addict successfully completes a formal rehab program, it’s time for them to re-learn how to function under “normal” life conditions.
So what does this mean?
It means they will have to learn how to cope with things that may have contributed to their stress — and ultimately addiction — in the past. They may have to reassimilate into their family or find a job or cope with a past trauma. A lot of this work will continue through counseling and outpatient therapy. However, there are also certain things recovering addicts and their loved ones can do to encourage a sober living environment.
1. Create a Low-Stress Environment
This will look different for every addict in recovery, so it’s important to talk with your loved one about what they need. If you are the recovering addict, then it’s essential you speak up and make your needs known. Don’t be afraid to distance yourself from negative influences, such as friends who engage in drug and alcohol use, or a family member who abused you as a child. At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Maybe it’s time to stop living alone and move in with a trusted family member or friend who can provide support and accountability during recovery.
Wherever you choose to live, it’s vital that the home environment be low-stress and not mimic the environmental triggers that contributed to your slide into abuse initially. If you are inviting a loved one to live with you while they continue their recovery journey, take time to make your home bright and welcoming, providing them with a light, positive atmosphere that makes them feel comfortable and supported.
2. Avoid Major Triggers
Just because a person completes a rehab program does not mean that they are “cured.” While it may not always be the case, setbacks and relapse can happen. But, the best way to support a recovering addict is to make sure their home environment is free from triggers that could encourage them to relapse. They need to learn how to trust people again, and this will happen when they are in an environment where they are cared for. The best way to do this is to provide them with a drug and alcohol-free environment to help them continue to fight and overcome the urges their addiction causes.
If you are a recovering addict, surround yourself with people who will encourage your successes, not people who will tempt you to fall back into your old patterns. This may mean leaving your old roommates and finding a new home. It may mean avoiding places you used to go to a party and drink. Decide what you need and make sure to express those needs to your support system.
3. Don’t Try to Do It Alone
Whether you are a recovering addict or you are supporting one, it’s going to be difficult to navigate this journey if you don’t have the support you need. No matter what your experiences have been, you have likely felt a lot of anger and hurt as addiction has wrapped itself around you and your family. It will take time to sort out all of the feelings and experiences that stemmed from addiction and learn how to move forward.
For some, it can take the form of professional counseling. For others, it may be an addiction support group. And this is not just for a recovering addict — family and friends of addicts should take advantage of the resources available to them as well. Whether you are a listening ear or you have taken on a larger role of accountability or caretaking, you need someone you can talk to and process things with.
Let Tranquil Shores Help You With Addiction
It’s clear that there are many things that can influence a person’s behavior and lead to a drug or alcohol addiction. But, regardless of the circumstances surrounding an addiction, there is one thing that all addicts have in common — they deserve to be healthy again. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, there is still hope. And there is help.
Located near Tampa Bay, Fla., Tranquil Shores is an addiction recovery center specializing in personalized and progressive care for alcohol and drug addiction. Our experienced team of professionals provides personally tailored programs designed with each individual client’s needs in mind. Whatever your story, whatever your circumstances, we are here. We are ready and waiting to help you and your loved one reclaim the life you once had. For more information, contact us today or call Tranquil Shores at (727) 888-6623.