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Why do people develop drug and alcohol dependences?

Are some people more at risk of developing drug and alcohol dependences? What is a substance dependence and is it the same as an addiction? Plus, where can you find treatment for a dependence or addiction? We answer all these questions and more here. If you are struggling with addiction, talk to us today about alcohol or drug rehab

Alcohol dependences

There are all sorts of misconceptions, half-truths and old wives’ tales about why people develop dependences and addictions to drugs and alcohol. While there are some risk factors that can be indicators, the fact is that the powerful physiological and psychological effects of addictive substances can lead anyone to potentially develop an addiction problem.

What is alcohol and drug dependence?

Substance dependence is often mistakenly presumed to be the same as addiction. In fact, they are subtly different. An addiction is defined as a compulsive, out-of-control, use of alcohol or drugs despite the negative consequences that could occur. Whereas dependence develops when the neurons adapt to the repeated drug exposure and can only function normally in the presence of that substance. When the drug is withdrawn, a range of physiologic reactions can occur, which is commonly known as the ‘withdrawal’ stage.

It is precisely because of these changes in brain activity that it becomes so difficult to overcome substance dependence and later when dealing with addiction. Drugs and alcohol tap into the brain’s communication system and disrupt the way nerve cells normally send, receive, and process information. They do this by over-stimulating the brain’s reward circuitry and imitating natural chemical messengers.

The brain-altering effects of drugs don’t stop there however. Brain imaging studies have revealed that addicts presented with altered cognitive function in terms of judgment, decision-making, learning, memory and behaviour. Unfortunately, these changes, brought about by a dependence on drugs or alcohol, can lead to exactly the sort of compulsive spiral of drinking and using that creates a cycle of addiction.

What influences alcohol dependence?

There is no single predicting factor that influences drug or alcohol dependence and addiction. There are several risk factors that can play a part in addiction though, including a person’s biology, age, social environment and stage of development. It is widely believed that the more risk factors there are at play, the greater the likelihood that addiction could occur.

In no particular order these risk factors include:

Development – Critical developmental stages in a person’s life can also affect their addiction vulnerability. Although drug and alcohol addiction can occur at any stage of life, it is widely believed that the earlier substance abuse begins, the more likely it is to progress to more serious abuse. Adolescents’ brains are still developing, which makes them especially prone to risk-taking behaviours.

Biology – The genes that we are are born with, combined with environmental factors, account for around 50% of addiction vulnerability. Furthermore, other genetic influences like gender, ethnicity, and other potential mental disorders can also influence the risk of substance dependence and addiction.

Environment – A person’s environment includes a great deal of different influences, ranging from family and friends, to socioeconomic status and quality of life. Peer pressure, abuse, stress and parental involvement can also influence a person’s predilection to drug and alcohol abuse.

Find treatment for drug and alcohol dependence

Fortunately, there are treatments available to help you to regain control from the damaging effects of substance dependence and addiction. Rehab is a course of treatment for drug or alcohol dependency or other addictive behaviour, typically at a residential facility. Rehabs are abstinence based and provide an intensive programme of support and care for people who have difficulty becoming drug or alcohol free.

Make us your first Port of Call. If you, or a loved one, are dealing with addiction we can help you find the right rehab at the right time. Take the first step today by speaking to one of our advisers for free on 08000029010.

About the author: Martin Preston

Martin is our Founder and Chief Executive. Martin is himself in long term recovery and started Port of Call to help families navigate treatment options. In 2020 Martin will open Delamere Health Ltd, the UK’s first purpose built addiction treatment clinic.

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