Dr. Philip Valdez Psy.D.
Consultant & Trainer
Motivational Encouragement for Positive Results
Factors for substance abuse are complex and varied. The development of an addiction is influenced by many biological, familial, psychological and socio-cultural factors. Everyone in our society has access to drugs and alcohol. Some people will merely use them and others will become addicted. Not everyone who uses substances will become addicted, dependent or even a regular user. Similar upbringing, environmental factors, rate of abuse for a drug and peer influence do not determine a person’s struggle with addiction. Genetics accounts for just half of the factors that lead to addiction. It is suggested that those with a parent or grandparent who has an addiction are more vulnerable. That isn’t to say that anyone born into a family with substance abuse will have the same problems. It simply means they may be more susceptible. Environmental and social factors will increase the risk of someone developing the problem.
Genetics should never be used an excuse for developing alcoholism or other addictions. Alcoholism can develop in response to significant personal issues, stress, mental health conditions, peer pressure, and many other factors. Family plays a large part in influencing a person’s decision to use or not use alcohol or other substances. A person does not inherit a substance abuse problem; they inherit a susceptibility to it. Those who are susceptible may never develop a problem with drugs or alcohol if they aren’t exposed to other influencers of addiction like environment or socio-cultural stress. Vulnerability to substance abuse is also influenced by demographic, environmental, behavioral and personality factors. Low self-esteem, social relationship issues, trauma, lack of stress management, loss and separation, poverty, previous sexual abuse, rebelliousness, delinquency, incarceration or simply the desire to escape reality all contribute to a person’s vulnerability to substance abuse. Without these additional factors, it is assumed that a person will not develop a substance abuse problem even if they have a parent who has suffered with a chronic alcohol or substance abuse problem.
Alcohol and substance abuse often combine with psychiatric disorders. Some experts believe that drug use amounts to “self-medication” after the psychiatric disorder is manifested. The two most common psychiatric disorders observed in those with addiction are antisocial personality and depression. Conduct disorder, attention deficit disorder, and anxiety disorders also increase the risk of drug addiction or alcoholism. Research suggests that the psychiatric disorder is likely to appear before the drug problem. However, psychiatric problems also can occur after drug use or abuse. Persons with substance use disorders suffer in the extreme with their feelings, either being overwhelmed with painful thoughts or not wanting to feel their emotions at all. Substances abuse helps the user to relieve painful feelings or to better control emotions. As a substance fulfills a need, the person will increasingly rely on it to feel better. Those who suffer from severe psychological distress are more apt to self-medicate with substances than seek outside help.