It is a question that is as old as the phenomenon itself: “What causes people to become addicted to drugs and alcohol?”
If you ask the average person on the street, he or she will give you his or her own theory or repeat someone else’s as if it were gospel.
Alcohol and drug addiction has been depicted as everything from a character flaw, to a hereditary disorder, to a mental illness, to a physical disease. Below we are going to explore some of the many theories surrounding drug and alcohol addiction, as well as many of the methods used to treat it.
Two Categories of Cause
The causes of drug and alcohol addiction are usually divided into two categories:
· Those that are within the addict’s control; and,
· Those that are outside of the addict’s control.
Factors Within the Addict’s Control
Factors that are considered within the addict’s control include things like character and personality. The belief is that, while the addict might now be hopelessly trapped in the web of addiction, the initial act of using was due to a deficit of character or a personality flaw. In short, that addicts are simply bad people, and it’s their own fault that they are addicted.
People who hold these beliefs often believe that drug and alcohol treatments should involve unpleasantness and deprivation, if there is any treatment at all. Often, these people believe in incarcerating drug addicts, and leaving them at the mercy of the justice system, rather than spending time and energy on making them well. In effect, the addict should be punished; not only for the addiction, but for the inherent character flaw that led her down this destructive path in the first place. 
Unfortunately, the use of incarceration in lieu of treatment is rarely successful. Addicts either continue to use while incarcerated, or they go back to using once they are released, which only leads to further incarceration.  When treatment is offered, it could involve questionable practices, like beatings and deprivation to treat the addiction.
Factors Outside the Addict’s Control
Factors outside of the addict’s control include things like heredity or genetics, mental illness, and the idea that addiction is a disease. The belief is that, for whatever reason, the addiction and even decision to use drugs or alcohol, are beyond the addict’s control.
For example, there are studies that show that children of alcoholics or addicts are up to nine times more likely to develop drug and/or alcohol addiction issues themselves. Scientists have also identified genes which they believe to play major roles in drug and alcohol addiction, including the CREB gene which is believed to influence withdrawal, dependence, and tolerance.
There are also studies that indicate that pre-existing mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder can all contribute to drug or alcohol addiction because, if left untreated, people with these conditions could turn to drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medicating.
There is also concern about the possible genetic link between certain types of mental illness and alcoholism. A study by The Journal of Neuroscience indicated that up to 70 percent of alcoholics have some form of clinical depression or anxiety, and that both could be linked to the same gene. 
The Real Cause of Drug and Alcohol Addiction
The reality is that there is no real cause of drug and alcohol addiction. Addiction is a complex problem with multiple contributing factors depending on the individual.
Some people have a family history of drug and alcohol abuse, which could point to genetic and hereditary issues, and can also point to being raised and socialized in an environment that is more permissive about drugs and alcohol.
Some people have mental health issues, which could have a genetic or hereditary cause, and could be related to the possible genetic factors surrounding addiction. However, it is also possible that the mental health issue could be related to past emotional or physical trauma, with no genetic or hereditary factors at all.
There are people who become addicted after receiving a routine prescription for pain killers, and there are people who knowingly start using drugs and alcohol recreationally, and eventually get in over their heads.
The bottom line is that, regardless of how or why people become addicted, they are addicted and they need help. Drug treatment programs and rehabilitation programs exist to help each addict discover the underlying cause of her individual addiction, and to get the help and treatment that will best meet his needs.
Identity Magazine is all about empowering women to get all A’s in the game of life – Accept. Appreciate. Achieve.™ Every contributor and expert answer the Identity 5 questions in keeping with our theme. As a team, we hope to inspire and motivate ourselves and inspire you to get all A’s.
What have you accepted within your life, physically and/or mentally? What are you still working on accepting?
As a therapist working with clients who engage in self-destructive behaviors, I have come to accept that I don’t have the power to make someone change or give up a behavior they’re not ready to let go of. My job is to educate, offer support, guidance and comfort, and be an authentic cheerleader and witness to their process. Their journey is their own and the choices and successes have to come from them. And there are certainly still times when I have to work hard on accepting and embracing that reality!
What have you learn to appreciate about yourself and/or within your life, physically and mentally? What are you still working on to appreciate?
I am so grateful for the countless ways in which my family, husband, children, friends, and colleagues nurture and support me, and encourage me to be true to my passions and my life’s work. Their belief in me means everything, and allows me to pay it forward in my work with my clients. What I am still working on appreciating about myself is that I get physically tired, given everything I do, and need to make sure that I give myself enough rest.
What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life? What makes YOU most proud? What goals and dreams do you still have?
I believe I am a wonderful mother to my three sons and, as I watch them evolve into such loving and caring adult men who communicate well, aren’t afraid to show their feelings, and are so kind to others, that feels like a great personal achievement. I am very proud of the work I do as a clinician. I am proud of the fact that at 55 years old I can still perform on stage and dance like a teenager! I am so proud of my husband and the countless ways he has helped others in his role as a Family Physician. I love what I do, so my goals include being able to keep doing it all! I also want to continue traveling, write more books, act in more shows and continue to provide consultation and mentoring to younger mental health professionals.
We all have imperfections, so we think. The truth—we are all perfectly imperfect. What are your not-so-perfect ways? What imperfections and quirks create who you are—your Identity?
Although I go out of my way to express my gratitude to loved ones, I am terrible at “thank you” cards, have at least 5 bottles of shampoo open at the same time, don’t always balance my checkbook, and have pretty messy closets!
“I Love My…” is an outlet for you to express and appreciate all the positive traits that make you…well… YOU! Sharing what you love about yourself will make you smile, feel empowered, and uplift your spirit and soul. (we assure you! Identity challenges you to complete the phrase “I Love My…?
I love my ability to be compassionate, genuinely nurturing and kind, and to feel grateful, everyday, for the countless blessings in my life!
1. Identity Magazine: Understanding and Healing Self-Destructive Behaviors
2. New York Courts: Confronting the Cycle of Addiction and Recidivism: http://www.nycourts.gov/reports/addictionrecidivism.shtml
3. Axis Recovery: Genetics and Alcoholism: http://www.axisresidentialtreatment.com/alcohol-addiction/genetics-and-alcoholism/
4. WebMD: Researchers Identify Alcoholism Gene – Alcohol Addiction, High Anxiety Linked to Same Gene: http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/news/20040526/researchers-identify-alcoholism-gene