What causes addiction?
Researchers believe that stress causes brain changes with the potential to lead to addiction. For example, stress early in life or stress that’s prolonged and recurring, affects development of the prefrontal lobe. This is the part of the brain that deals with higher-level thinking and impulse control.
The prefrontal cortex, that enables us to assess situations, make sound decisions and keep our emotions and desires under control, is still maturing during adolescence. Starting to use substances during this phase of development may cause brain changes that have profound and long-lasting consequences.
Research shows clearly that stress plays a major part in starting substance use, progressing to sustained substance abuse as well as relapse in people recovering from addiction.
There is loads of research to support this including the scientific research ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study. This is a study analyzing the relationship between multiple categories of childhood trauma (ACEs), and health and behavioral outcomes later in life.
ACEs include recurrent abuse, recurrent emotional and physical neglect, one or no parents, member of the household incarcerated or a substance abuser. Growing up experiencing any of these ACEs prior to age 18 can cause social, emotional and cognitive impairment.
The more ACEs there are the greater the likelihood of an individual adopting risky behaviours causing disease, disability and social problems and bringing about early death.
In addition, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), trauma and other anxiety disorders are significantly connected to higher rates of addiction. Science has showed clearly that prolonged high stress environments affect the development of the brain, compromising critical brain regions like decision-making, reward pathways, the ability to regulate emotionally and to manage stress.
People use substances in an attempt to lessen feelings of distress. Then continued abuse leads to further brain changes that develop into addiction.
If you are interested in Kevin’s answer to this question, make sure you get in touch to find answers to other questions like:
- What is the difference between a problem drinker/drug user and an addict?
- Is there is a predisposition to addiction in some people?
- How long does it take for someone to become addicted and what determines how long this process takes?
- What are the emotional issues which addiction is responding to?
- Why do some people cope with the emotional issues without becoming addicts?
- Why is it so hard to stop addictive patterns of behaviour?
- What is the best way of stopping addiction?
- Why does criminalising addiction not work?
- Why do workers in the criminal justice system not treat addiction as an illness?
- What do drug workers need to do differently?
- Why do people relapse?
- Can addicts be cured?
- Should society be scared of addicts?
- Why shouldn’t society control addicts and their behaviour if they are causing harm to others?
- Why do people not want to believe that addiction is an illness?
- If everyone was convinced that addiction was an illness what would addiction treatment in this country look like?