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The Chances of Getting a Drug or Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol or drug addiction depends on one’s environment, genes and psychologyAddicted by Chance?

After she was found dead in her home, Amy Winehouse who was just only 27 years of age, became more popular than ever for her song “Rehab.” In this song she sang of refusing treatment for drug addiction.

Following speculation of a drug addiction and so on, the outcome soon followed that Winehouse had passed away from alcohol poisoning. With more than five times the legal limitation for operating a vehicle in her blood, she simply had far more than what she could handle. While some of her family members believed her to be sober, sadly, even Winehouse’s mother admitted that it was just a matter of time.

This brings up a viable question of; is drug or alcohol addiction just a matter of time? After all, many people are able to survive it, while others are able to function with it and manage it. Meanwhile, it takes over the lives of others. This question is nothing new. Scientists have juggled to find an answer, but only until recently have they started to find answers.

Illegal drug use in both Britain and the United States is quite a common occurrence. It typically begins during adolescent years. In a survey taken in 2008 (The National Survey of Drug Use and Health), it showed that about 46 percent of people in the United States had tried illegal drugs during one time or another. About 8 percent had used illegal drugs in the past month. With alcohol however, about 51 percent had consumed alcohol within the last month.

According to this data and other research, many people who do experiment with drugs will not become addicted. If those individuals are not the ones at risk, then who is?

Patients who have various types of psychiatric illnesses are more likely to become addicts, hence the increased demand for dual diagnosis addiction treatment centers. This includes those with anxiety, mood and personality disorders. It was found by the National Institute of Mental Health’s Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study, that individuals with a mental health issue are three times more likely to portray addictive behaviours. For people who suffer with a substance abuse disorder or alcohol and drug addiction, about 60 percent of them have some sort of mental illness. While addiction and mental illnesses are closely linked, it is not clear of whether the addiction predisposes one to mental illness or if the mental illness predisposes them to addiction.

What scientists do know however; is that having a mental illness doesn’t only increase ones chance of sporadic drug abuse, but it also raises the risk of that person becoming dependent of the drug, and therefore, addicted. This is because they are self-medicating themselves on a long term basis. Evidence of this is seen all of the time.

For those who have a psychiatric illness, drugs and alcohol work to activate brain circuits which impact both mood and behaviour. These same circuits are disrupted by their illness. We see patients who are depressed or anxious turn to alcohol and various sedatives. Unfortunately, these substances only make the problem worse, as they are terrible antidepressants causing a downwards spiral of addiction as well as depression.

When it comes to personality disorders the odds are also raised towards drug and alcohol abuse. Patients who are narcissistic and are having to constantly battle feelings of being inadequate are typically drawn to stimulants and may even develop cocaine addiction. This is because it provides them with feelings of self-confidence and power. For those who have a borderline personality disorder, it is hard for them to control anger and impulses and because of that they run to alcohol and drugs to help ease their moods that can become quite intolerable.

Not only does ones mental health create a risk of drug or alcohol addiction long term, but evidence also shows that drug or alcohol abuse may be a developmental brain disorder. Research has shown that people with addictions are completely wired differently versus those without addictions.

The director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow, has completed several studies showing brain images of addicts. People who are suffering from heroin addiction, cocaine addiction, addictionto alcohol and other drugs have fewer dopamine receptors within their brain’s pathway in comparison to those who are not addicts. Dopamine sends signals to the brain and is a neurotransmitter that is significant to experiencing desire and pleasure.

When comparing the responses of the control group versus an addict’s response, Dr.Volkow found that in giving a stimulant infusion, addicts with lower D2 receptor levels found it pleasurable.  Meanwhile, those with higher D2 receptor levels showed aversive affects towards the stimulants. In short, this has proven that for addicts, everyday pleasures are nowhere near as pleasurable as the “reward” of drugs. Evidence has also showed that addicts who abstain from drug use have shown an increase in receptors but it is not clear if overtime, they will normalize.

It is also important to remember that environment also plays a huge role in drug or alcohol addiction. Even more so in the case of Amy Winehouse where drug and alcohol abuse was not only accepted by those around her, but encouraged as well. Individuals who are not wired towards addiction may become dependent on alcohol or drugs if they are constantly around them. Studies have proven this.

Using drugs will change the brain. Dr.Volkow points out that primate’s that do not have a predisposition to addiction will become compulsive users of drugs like cocaine, as the numbers of D2 receptors decrease within their brains.  Simply put, anyone can become an addict under certain circumstances.

Regardless of one’s genetic risk, or drug addiction is a possibility. One may experiment with drugs during adolescence, never to do so again, while the next person may become an addict for years to come. It all depends on their environment, their genes, and psychology.

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