Michael Rice, LISAC

For those who do not work in the field of addictions (and for some who do), there have been numerous articles attributed to the “Cause of Addiction.”  The authors of these articles start out with the best of intentions believing that they have discovered the cause of addiction.  It seems as quickly as they begin with their findings, a switch seems to go off sending them onto a totally different track resulting in information that has always been known:  Alcohol and drugs are addictive and people who drink and use do so “to escape.”  Then the writers begin to describe all the reasons WHY people drink or use drugs without ever disclosing what causes the addiction.

Not everyone who drinks or uses drugs become addicted to them. While it is true that you cannot become addicted to them unless you drink or use, the cause of the addiction is the consistent and constant use of the drug.  Anyone who drinks/uses long enough and hard enough will become addicted.  So yes, what leads to addiction is the result of why people drink/ue in the first place but those reasons are not the cause of addiction.

The cause of alcohol and drug addiction is bio-cellular.  It is not a medical disease and it is not a mental illness.  It is a non-infectious condition and no gene has yet to be confirmed to identify it as a genetic condition (although many have claimed or believe it to be without solid proof).

Once a person crosses the lines of sociological and psychological abuse, they eventually cross the biochemical line and become physiologically addicted.   Over time, millions of cells become altered to deal with the regular presence of the substance.   These cells adjust from the way they were naturally meant to function and are now functioning differently with the substance that is regularly being used. After any period of depravation, these cells react in what might be called violent ways.  They no longer are getting the drug they have been accustomed to and cause several different physical reactions (withdrawal).

A true physical addict or alcoholic feels “sick” when not getting their drugs or alcohol.  They drink or use to “feel well.”  I refer to a “true” addict/alcoholic as one who has crossed that biochemical line.  All others are primarily drug/alcohol abusers and not addicted . . . . yet. . . at least not biochemically.

NOW you can talk about why people drink or use drugs.  To replace the pleasant for the unpleasant is the most natural thing we do as humans.  If cold, we put on a coat or sweater.  If it rains, we go inside or seek other shelter.  If hot, we turn on the AC.  If we have a headache, we take an aspirin.    If stressed or anxious, some rely on drugs or alcohol.  When marriages or relationships go bad, crawling into a bottle or drug use is a temporary fix to numb emotions.  If an addict or alcoholic feels “sick” s/he drinks or uses to feel better.  This is why so many individuals relapse or even fail to begin treatment.  They are avoiding the symptoms of withdrawal (which can be extremely severe).

Not everyone who abuses alcohol or drugs for the above-mentioned reasons become biochemically addicted.  Those who have resolved their “unpleasant” issues before ever crossing the biochemical line eventually become normal drinkers or no longer rely on drugs.  The person who has unfortunately crossed that line cannot return to normal drinking/using.   After having gone through the withdrawals and detoxification, and regardless of the years they may be abstinent, cells retain a memory of how to function with the presence of drugs/alcohol.  Should the drugs be reintroduced, the addictive process reawakens relatively quickly.  In a short time, the addict/alcoholic finds him/herself back where s/he started.  This is why a true alcoholic/addict cannot return to responsible use.

So what is the cause of addiction?  It isn’t unhappiness, stress, loneliness, et al.  Those are the reasons why people drink or use drugs.  The cause of addiction is cellular mutation caused by consistent usage forcing cells to adjust to the presence of the drug of choice.

In Choice Theory, emphasis is placed on thinking and/or behaving to resolve unhappiness and  emotional and physiological aspects are affected indirectly based on their thinking and behaving.  In the addict’s world, drugs and alcohol have a direct and instantaneous effect on emotions and physiological conditions without any concern for thinking and behaving . . . other than choosing to use/drink.  They have learned that drugs and alcohol are the most efficient tools in their behavioral system for effective, albeit temporary, relief of their unwanted emotions and physical illness symptoms.  Ironically, the substance that causes their unwanted conditions is what is relied upon to alleviate them.

Shopaholics, sexaholics, and gambling addicts don’t have biochemical addictions but they do have an addiction to pleasure, which they misinterpret as happiness.  If they cease their behaviors, they will experience emotional withdrawals but not necessarily physical withdrawals.  Dr. Wm. Glasser reminds us that pleasure is easily attained without the involvement of other people and happiness can only be attained by maintaining meaningfull relationships.  Victor Frankl tells us, those who have found no meaning to their lives find it easy to resort to things that bring pleasure.

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