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June 14, 2020

Risk Factors of Addiction – (I’m okay aren’t I?)

I find the thought of addiction fascinating, and by that I don’t mean the addiction itself, because as anyone who has been there will know, that is no fun at all, but rather the reason behind why some of us get addicted. I know the easy answer would be to say because we drink or use a substance too much, but that isn’t always the case. For a lot of us it is far more complicated than having a few drinks too many. 

Some suggest that the predisposition to an addiction is innate, maybe inherited genetically, as there often does seem to be a link in families. Others seem to think it is more learned than that, perhaps as a coping strategy for the things that life throws our way. Then there is the school of thought that suggests it is an illness that addicts have no control over, and are helpless to overcome. I don’t think it is as simple as one of these though, I think it’s more a combination and that although some people may be more at risk, it really is down to life experiences and how we cope with them that determines how we behave and how we recover. 

There are a lot of factors that contribute to addiction, in fact so many that it is almost impossible to predict whether someone will develop and suffer from an addiction or not. 

The most suggested factors influencing alcohol addiction are:

  • Family history of addiction.
  • Seeing excessive use as you’re growing up. 
  • Drinking as a youngster.
  • Excessive drinking as you get older.
  • Peer pressure from friends, partners and those close to you. 
  • A high stress career, with a need to find a release.
  • Frequent use of alcohol over a long period of time. 
  • Personal mental health difficulties, with anxiety and depression being common causes.
  • Past traumas.

It’s worth being aware of these factors, as they might influence behaviour and alcohol use, but they are by no means definitive. You’ll generally see the factors grouped into internal and external factors, the first including genetics, mental health conditions, personality traits and the history each person has with drinking. The external factors are more down to family and environment, religion and social expectations as well as age, education and job status. I don’t always agree with the last few there, as if we take them into account, it means I’m not as at risk as some people. I have always worked, I had a good, ‘important’ job, and a family, but, I also had a severe drinking problem. I think it goes to prove that there isn’t just one simple factor or a reason that determines whether someone might develop a drinking problem, and just because someone is well-educated doesn’t mean they are immune.

Of course, if someone is to grow up in a family or environment where heavy drinking is frequent, then it will influence the individual, as it becomes normal or expected. That’s one of the reasons why I struggle with many alcohol based adverts, because they normalise drinking in a way that cigarette adverts once normalised smoking. I don’t feel there is any need to make it more normal. Those who want to drink are I am sure quite able to choose to without the reassurance and encouragement from an advert illustrating a life enhanced by alcohol, and really, that is what the adverts do isn’t it? They glamourise it, they tempt us with an idea of how we might live if we have this magical substance in our hands, but in truth, that is seldom the case. At least, it wasn’t for me!

There seems to be an increasing rise in recent years of women, especially those in their thirties, developing problems with alcohol. It seems that in our busy lives, combining many things like families, homes and jobs, more and more of us are looking for that way to relax in the evening, with many of us reaching for a bottle to do it. When we see it repeatedly on the TV, who can blame us?!

Coming from someone who has recovered from an alcohol dependency, I’d like to say that sometimes you don’t see an addiction coming until it’s too late, and then it’s easy to deny it, even to yourself. It’s easier to put your head in the sand and keep on going in the way you were. It’s easy to look on paper for reassurance and think you are safe, and while risk factors are interesting, in truth I feel anyone can be at risk. What’s important to remember is that although alcohol or any other addictive substance can provide a relief, there are so many other things out there that can also provide a relief, and many of them are far better for you than an addictive substance. 

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Claire Hatwell  |  Contribution: 2,920