The Science of Addiction: What Makes Some People More Prone to Addiction?

Addiction is a complex, chronic disorder which can take hold in an individual’s life, causing major disruptions in a vast array of areas – physical and mental health, relationships, finance, social life and more. It affects millions of people every year, and not all addictions are created equal: some may affect an individual’s life more severely than others, leading to potentially devastating consequences. 

So what are the scientific explanations behind why some people may be more prone to developing an addiction than others? Let’s explore the science of addiction, the key factors that can put someone at greater risk, and the resources available for treatment.

What is Addiction?

Before delving into the science, it’s important to understand what addiction is and how it develops. According to the World Health Organization, addiction is defined as “a cluster of behavioural, cognitive, and physiological phenomena that develop after repeated substance use and include a strong desire to take the drug, difficulties in controlling its use, persisting in its use despite harmful consequences, a higher priority given to substance use than to other activities and obligations, increased tolerance, and sometimes a physical withdrawal state.”

Essentially, addiction involves a person’s psychological dependence on a drug or substance, to the point where they compulsively seek and use it in spite of potential dangers. It is not a voluntary behavior, but rather a compulsion which may be difficult to control.

Risk Factors for Addiction

It is important to note that anyone can become addicted to a particular substance, but there are some risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing an addiction. These risks come in three different forms: biological, psychological, and social.

Biological Factors

• Family history: Genetics can play a major role in addiction, and having parents or siblings who have been addicted to certain substances significantly increases the risk of developing an addiction in the future.

• Physical changes in the brain: Addiction is seen as a brain disorder. People with substance use disorder often have physical changes in the brain chemistry which are associated with memory and motivation, as well as pleasure and reward pathways.

Psychological Factors

• Mental health disorders: People suffering from mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder are more likely to develop an addiction as a method of self-medication.

• Poor impulse control: People with a low ability to resist temptation, or who struggle to make sound judgments, are at an increased risk of addiction.

Social Factors

• Peer influence: Children and teenagers can be particularly vulnerable to addiction due to peer pressure, as well as the sense of camaraderie or belonging that can come with substance use.

• Trauma: Experiencing a traumatic event, whether in childhood or later life, can leave a person more vulnerable to addiction.

• Availability and accessibility: Easy access to certain substances – such as alcohol, drugs, or even gambling – can increase the risk of addiction, especially in certain communities or social circles.

Treatment Options

No matter what the cause may be, there are treatments available for addiction. It is important to seek professional advice in order to determine the best course of treatment, as every individual is unique.

Most people will benefit from some form of therapy or counselling, as this can help to work through the psychological and mental cause of the addiction. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is particularly helpful in changing an individual’s unhealthy behaviour, while family therapy is important in rebuilding relationships which may have been damaged by addiction.

Other treatments include medication, detoxification, and may include 12-Step programmes depending on the individual’s situation. Some rehabilitation centres may also provide certain therapies and treatments such as occupational therapy, art therapy, or music therapy.

Addiction is a complex disorder, and knowing what puts someone at greater risk of developing an addiction can be beneficial in preventing it from occurring. The scientific explanations behind why some people are more prone to addiction include a range of different factors, from genetics and physical changes in the brain to social pressures and mental health issues. Fortunately, there is help available for those struggling with addiction, and with the right support, it is possible for individuals to overcome their substance use disorder.