Is Addiction Caused by Nature or Nurture? (The Science)

Substance abuse does not discriminate. In one form or another, it has managed to impact people of various races, backgrounds, political leanings, and communities.

For example, a middle-aged man can feel the need to abuse alcohol to self-medicate from childhood trauma, which continues to reverberate throughout his adult life. A 20-year-old has a profound addiction to heroin, which stemmed from her decision to pop an OxyContin pill at a high school party.

A young college student who wants to get into the country’s most prestigious law school abuses Adderall so he can stay awake and pull all-night study sessions.

An older woman with insomnia takes Xanax with a little brandy to get some sleep.

People who come to a place of addiction, do so from different roads. There is no single cause that results in someone becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol.

So addiction can come from either nature or nurture. There are a variety of influencers that cause people to get hooked on drugs: home environment (nurture), friends (nurture), genetics (nature) or psychological predisposition (nature).

Read on to learn more about addiction and available treatment solutions.

What is Addiction?

The American Psychiatric Association defines addiction as a brain disease where someone displays the compulsive urge to use a substance despite harmful consequences. The pursuit of the substance takes over their life, and they become obsessed with trying to obtain it.

The reasons people engage in drug use, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), are for the following purposes:

  • To feel good
  • To feel better
  • To perform better
  • Peer/social pressure and curiosity

Using drugs to feel better and to perform better can seem like noble aspirations. However, the issue with such use is that, even under those scenarios, a drug can take over someone’s life.

The road to that addiction starts when someone begins to become tolerant to the effects of drugs or alcohol, where they require a more significant amount to experience the same impact a previous, smaller dose once yielded.

“Over time, if drug use continues, other pleasurable activities become less pleasurable, and the person has to take the drug just to feel “normal.” They have a hard time controlling their need to take drugs even though it causes many problems for themselves and their loved ones,” states NIDA.

When someone becomes dependent on a substance, they engage in abuse because being on it makes them feel normal. When that substance exits the body, withdrawal symptoms occur.

Fighting Addiction Yourself is Difficult. Let Our Experts Help!

Fighting Addiction Yourself is Difficult. Let Our Experts Help!

Signs of Addiction

Often, addiction results when someone has exhibited tolerance to and dependence on a substance. There are telltale physical, behavioral, and psychological signs of addiction to watch out for.

According to Medical News Todayhttps://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323459.php, the physical signs of addiction can include:

Exhibiting withdrawal symptoms: For example, when someone is under opioid withdrawal, they will exhibit symptoms that are considered flu-like, which include muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

A change in appearance/worsening hygiene: A person in the throes of addiction will appear disheveled or tired, emanate strange or rank odors, and be dirty in appearance — from their bodies to their clothes.

Poor sleep habits: They may develop insomnia from their addiction, which is a common drug withdrawal symptom. If someone is on a stimulant like methamphetamine or Adderall, they may stay up for several nights in a row.

Worsening physical health: They may develop physical ailments or conditions from their substance abuse like respiratory illness, abscesses, ulcers, vein, or artery damage (from intravenous drug use).

Changes in appetite: Certain substances may impact appetite. Someone on a stimulant drug like cocaine may experience a loss in appetite while a person who is on marijuana may exhibit a healthier, more voracious appetite.

Higher tolerance: They require more of the substance to experience the sensations that drew them to abuse. The initial dose of the drug no longer imparts those feelings because they have grown tolerant or used to its presence.

Common psychological symptoms include:

  • Being obsessed with obtaining a substance
  • The inability to stop using
  • Continued use despite worsening health problems
  • Large consumption of a substance
  • Exhibiting lowered inhibitions or engaging in risky behavior
  • Abusing a substance as a means to escape

On top of all that, there are behavioral/social signs that are hallmarks of an addiction. According to Medical News Today, those include:

  • Losing interest in hobbies and activity
  • Preferring isolation or moving about in secrecy
  • Experiencing legal issues
  • Experiencing financial difficulties
  • Making unusual sacrifices to engage in substance use
  • Being in denial about their substance abuse issue
  • Excessively consuming or abusing their substance of choice
  • Always maintaining a healthy supply of drugs or alcohol
  • Having hidden stashes of the substance in the house or car

Factors That Cause Addiction

The factors that influence addiction are nature and nurture-oriented rather than nature over nurture or vice-versa. Specifically, those factors are biological, social, or environmental and psychological, according to Psychology Today.

Still, if you wanted to make an argument about which facet was more predominant when it comes to addiction, then nature wins.

Biological Factors of Addiction

Genetic makeup: Genes can account for about half of a person’s risk for developing an addiction, according to NIDA. NIDA also states that a person’s “gender, ethnicity, and the presence of other mental disorders may also influence risk for drug use and addiction.”

Physiology: For addictions to alcohol, the variations in how liver enzymes metabolize substances can heighten someone’s risk of developing a problem with alcohol, states Psychology Today.

Gender and other biological factors: Men are more likely to develop substance use disorders. However, in specific categories like alcohol use, adult women appear to be closing the gap, states Psychology Today.

Environmental Factors

Home/family: A home environment where a child has experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse can also develop an addiction later on in life. Also, if someone grew up in a home where a parent or sibling had an addiction, that could cause them to develop a habit as well. Other environmental factors that influence addiction include divorce, parental neglect, and a lack of parental support.

Accessibility and availability: If someone grew up in a home or community where there was easy access to drugs or alcohol, they could also be at risk of developing an addiction.

Strand of DNA with one of the rungs glowing

Friends and peers: The friends and peers you hang around can also impact your behavior. If you socialize with people who engage in drug or alcohol abuse, the more likely you will develop a substance addiction. This is true if you have had these influences in your teen and young adult years.

Employment status: According to Psychology Today, someone who has a job and skills that make them employable will have financial and psychological benefits that can prevent them from falling into addiction. Conversely, someone can fall into addiction if they have had a hard time finding work and lack employable skills.

Psychological Factors

Personality: Impulsive people who are sensation seekers are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. Psychology Today reports that impulsivity in people may lead to relapse.

Trauma and abuse:Psychology Today also states that early exposure to trauma and abuse can lead to the blooming of substance addiction because those incidents can overwhelm one’s coping ability.

Mental health: People with psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are at a higher risk for developing a substance addiction, according to Psychology Today.

How Professional Treatment Can Help

Because addiction is primarily a brain disorder, comprehensive treatment that addresses the mental and emotional aspects of this disease is vital. In other words, treating just the physical component of addiction is only the beginning.

That’s where a reputable professional treatment program can help you. A full-scale program will treat the physical effects of your addiction by providing a medical detox, the first step of a rehab program.

In detox, the addictive substance and other toxins are removed from your body, and any withdrawal symptoms you experience is treated. A medical team provides around-the-clock care to monitor your health and progress.

After your detox is completed, the mental and emotional aspects of your addiction are addressed in residential treatment, outpatient treatment, or both. For clients with severe addictions, it is recommended that they enter a residential program. This sort of program allows them to live on site where they will receive treatment. Such a setting will enable them to focus full-time on their recovery.

An outpatient program provides comprehensive treatment on a part-time basis, allowing clients to live independently.

After treatment, it is vital for people in recovery to remain connected to a community that inspires yet holds them accountable for maintaining their sobriety. This is where relapse prevention comes in. Relapse prevention can connect a client to a recovery community that, as the name suggests, serves as a hedge against relapse.


Get Help Today

Drug or alcohol addiction does not have to take over your life. Let us help you locate a treatment solution that can give you the chance to achieve sobriety and wellness.

Call us for a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable addiction recovery specialists.  They are available 24/7 to offer advice, assistance, and information and can help you locate the right treatment option. You also can contact us online for more information.