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addiction isn't a choice
October 18, 2021

Is Addiction a Choice?

Millions of people have experimented with drugs or alcohol without experiencing long-term negative consequences. They may try these substances out of simple curiosity, or because they want to fit in socially. Whatever the reason, nobody tries alcohol or drugs because they want to become addicted.

However, some people get caught in the cycle of substance abuse, while others have no problem moderating when and how much they drink or take drugs. This disparity has fueled the dangerous misconception that addiction is a conscious decision, causing addicts to face stigma and discrimination. Is addiction a choice, or a disease? Let’s take a closer look at the facts. 

What Causes Addiction?

One of the most harmful characterizations of people with substance use disorders is that they are immoral or weak-willed. This stereotype keeps many addicts from admitting they need help, because they don’t want others to judge them harshly. 

The truth is that addiction is a complex brain disease, and quitting usually takes far more than a firm resolution. To understand why someone would continue drinking or abusing drugs even after experiencing multiple negative consequences, it helps to understand how the substance abuse cycle perpetuates itself.

How Addiction Changes the Brain

When casual use progresses into a daily habit, your brain’s chemistry and function changes. In the frequent presence of drugs or alcohol, your built-in reward pathways adapt in such a way that it becomes nearly impossible to derive pleasure from anything other than your substance of use. As the addiction gradually takes over your life, you lose the ability to say no.  

The patterns and rituals associated with drinking and drug use also create powerful feelings of anticipation and satisfaction. Even people who have pledged to quit and have successfully achieved a period of prolonged sobriety may begin to look back fondly on the sense of gratification that came with their chosen substance, which can trigger cravings and an eventual relapse.

Why Do Some People Get Addicted?

How can some people get hooked on a substance after trying it a couple of times, while others can take it or leave it? Health experts have identified several factors that may put you at a higher risk of developing a substance use disorder.

For example, research indicates genetics play a significant role. If you have a family history of mental health issues, you may be significantly more likely to get addicted to drugs or alcohol.

The substance you use might come into play, as well. Some drugs, such as meth and cocaine, have a much higher potential for abuse than others.

Environmental risk factors may also predict your likelihood of becoming addicted later in life. Growing up with one or more adults who frequently drank or used drugs may cause you to believe that getting drunk or high is a healthy coping mechanism. Dysfunction or abuse can take a toll on family members’ mental health, increasing your chances of reaching for mind-altering substances to relieve stress or anxiety.

The presence of a co-occurring disorder such as depression or PTSD is another significant predictor of substance abuse habits. Left untreated, addiction and mental health issues can magnify each other, fueling a vicious cycle that can become nearly impossible to overcome without professional help.

Finding Freedom at Beach House

Though successfully recovering from a dual diagnosis is challenging, it is never out of reach. At Beach House, we believe people struggling with addiction should not have to fight this battle alone.

Our evidence-based continuum of care, therapeutic alliance and compassionate culture provide the treatment and support our clients need to get back on their feet and reestablish healthy, happy lives free of the burden of substance misuse. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you or a loved one.

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