When most people think about addictions, we tend to initially think about the so-called recreational drugs and alcohol. We might also be aware that addiction to prescription medications -- notably pain killers -- has also become a problem, especially when mixed with street drugs and alcohol.
It's pretty well understood now that susceptibility to addiction is a complex condition that can be triggered by a combination of things: genetics, environmental factors such as family influence, cultural and social traditions, and individual stress and coping.
Scientists at the University of Utah Genetics Science Learning Center say that addiction is a very complex trait, that more than one gene is responsible, and that environment plays a huge role in how vulnerable or resistant anyone is to becoming addicted or to having great difficulty with withdrawal.
Once addicted, though, the brain changes in response to the temporary feeling of being "rewarded" -- that is, having fears and anxieties reduced or mood lifted, for example -- and the experience of craving sets in.
Because of these neurological changes, such craving feels like a biological imperative, creating a physical feeling of needing more of the drug in order to keep living, or postpone dying. This is an example of what Alcoholics Anonymous calls "stinkin' thinkin'." The craving feels true, but it is a distortion of what actually promotes health.
Family Influences and Learned Coping
Some families celebrate joyous occasions and mourn tragic ones alike with an abundance of alcohol. Often the pressure to imbibe is so unconscious that we think an event would be ruined without free flowing beer, champagne or an open bar. With this kind of family acceptance and expectation, the privilege of drinking can seem like an inalienable right that must not be willingly surrendered.
Many youthful rites of passage such as turning 18 or 21, the marriage toast, the college graduation keg party, and so on are closely tied to the use of alcohol. And thanks to a medical-pharmaceutical-television industrial complex every child has learned that there is a pill to pop for any discomfort.
These family and marketing influences condition us to expect drugs and alcohol to be an essential and normal part of life that is rarely questioned. Drug and alcohol use are almost literally forced down our throats before we can say no.
Generational Socio-Cultural Attractions
Each generation has their own socio-cultural attraction to addictive substances, or reasons for initially exploring drugs and alcohol. Among the Millennial generation (those now 35 and younger), inherited susceptibility can be triggered when substances that briefly relieve anxiety and give a false, temporary sense of increased confidence help in coping with the responsibilities and strains of adulthood. The more anxiety and need for confidence, the more use, and the higher risk of flipping a genetic switch in a direction that is difficult to reverse without medical and mental health treatment for addiction.
Generation X (roughly those now 35-50) may be more persuaded to over-use drugs and alcohol to medicate physical and emotional pain such as child abuse, family separations, trauma, physical injuries, and the fear or reality of becoming homeless. The more fear and pain, the more use, and the more potential that what begins as a coping method evolves into an addiction.
Boomers (now approximately 50-70) -- who famously experimented with mind and mood altering drugs in search of spiritual enlightenment -- may have triggered susceptibility to addiction from a sense of existential longing. But they too have struggled with the fear, physical pain, anxiety, stress, trauma, family dysfunction of other generations, as well as with the inherited parental despair of the Great Depression.
Those who wrestle with addiction in every generations suffer the stigma of being an addict, and too often the shame or guilt endured prevents seeking treatment.
If you are struggling with cravings for drugs or alcohol, or if an addiction has taken over your life, we'd like to help. At Phoenix Rising Institute we have psychotherapists who are especially trained to help members of the LGBTQIA community who are hurting from addiction to find their sobriety. Give us a call at 714 - 504 - 8840 and let's talk about how we can help.