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Reasons for addiction could occur in the womb

What are the reasons for addiction? Well, the answer could have more to do with factors during pregnancy and primary school, rather than a so-called ‘addictive personality’. That’s according to a new US government report and a leading Professor of Behavioural Addiction, as Port of Call reports.

The road to recovery is sometimes littered with introspective questions, such as “is it my fault that I’m an addict?” or “is my addiction due to my ‘addictive personality?’” The answer to both is an emphatic: no! Because new research suggests that the reasons for drug addiction and causes for alcoholism might be formed during a baby’s development and during stressful experiences by the age of eight.

Reasons for addiction

The widely held belief within addiction treatment circles is that drug and alcohol abuse typically begins in teenage years. However, a new US government report has turned this argument on its head, suggesting that the reasons for addiction in later life might be formed even before birth during pregnancy.

According to the National Institutes of Health report, biological, psychological, social and environmental factors during pregnancy may play a bigger impact than first thought on addiction in later life. The report also claims that the stresses a child experiences before the age of eight, such as divorce and lack of school readiness, could also increase the likelihood of addiction.

“Thanks to more than three decades of research into what makes a young child able to cope with life’s inevitable stresses,” said Dr Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institutes on Drug Abuse. We now know that early intervention can set the stage for more positive self-regulation as children prepare for their school years,’ she added.

Definition of addiction

While addiction may well be rooted in a host of pre-natal factors, one addiction expert has moved to debunk the idea that people have ‘addictive personalities.’ Writing for the Independent, Mark Griffiths, Director of the International Gaming Research Unit and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at Nottingham Trent University, stated that “there’s no such thing as an ‘addictive personality.’”

“The issue all comes down to how addiction is defined in the first place – as many of us in the field disagree on what the core components of addiction actually are,” Griffiths writes. “Many would argue that the words “addiction” and “addictive” are used so much in everyday circumstances that they have become meaningless.

“For instance, saying that a book is an “addictive read” or that a specific television series is “addictive viewing” renders the word useless in a clinical setting. Here, the word “addictive” is arguably used in a positive way and as such it devalues its real meaning,” he adds.

Psychological reasons for addiction

So what is the difference between a healthy excessive enthusiasm and an addiction? Griffiths’ response is emphatic: “A healthy excessive enthusiasm adds to life, whereas an addiction takes away from it. I also believe that to be classed as an addiction, any such behaviour should comprise a number of key components, including overriding preoccupation with the behaviour, conflict with other activities and relationships, withdrawal symptoms when unable to engage in the activity, an increase in the behaviour over time (tolerance), and use of the behaviour to alter mood state.

“Other consequences, such as feeling out of control with the behaviour and cravings for the behaviour are often present. If all these signs and symptoms are present then I would call the behaviour a true addiction,” he adds.

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