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Substance abuse does not follow a pattern. It does not have a set of rules that determine whether or not someone will develop an addiction. So what causes substance abuse?
While not everyone who is exposed to certain factors develops dependency on drugs and/or alcohol, but there has been a correlation between certain environmental, individual or genetic, and social factors and substance abuse and addiction.
A World Health Organization (WHO) report, entitled “Neuroscience of Psychoactive Substance Use and Dependence”, details many environmental and individual factors, including genetics that contribute to Substance Abuse and Addiction. Genetics contribute to the increased likelihood that an individual will abuse drugs, and to what extent the substance abuse may escalate. Environmental risk factors include availability of drugs, poverty, social changes, peer influences, employment status, type of occupation and cultural attitudes. Individual risk factors include: being a victim of child abuse, personality disorders, extreme changes in family situation, inter-family dependence problems, academic stress, poor academic performance, social deprivation, depression, and suicidal behavior. College student are particularly influenced by a number of different factors: including peer pressure, separation from family and friends, academic performance pressures, and biological mental duress. All can be contributing factors of substance abuse.
The report also states:
“In thinking about dependence, it is important to remember that over a lifespan many people experiment with a variety of potentially dependence-producing substances, but most do not become dependent. There are also individual differences in susceptibility to substance dependence due to environmental and genetic factors.”
Substance abuse is a compilation of experiences, environments and motivations that propel individuals into different directions. It is the unique make-up of an individual’s story. Everyone is brought to the same ending from a different beginning. While some experiences are shared, there are a plethora of risk factors that can contribute to the development of addiction. Most risk factors fall into one of several categories.
Environmental Causes of Substance Abuse and Addiction
Some of our earliest interactions in life play the biggest roles in our development. From early childhood to the ongoing development into adulthood, our relationships with family and peers have some of the greatest influence on the development of addictions. Conflict within the household can amplify stress and cause some to seek an escape through these substances. Stressors can develop as a result of a variety of environmental factors. For example, children exposed to criminal behavior and family members who abuse drugs/alcohol are at a greater risk of developing their own problems. The earlier in life a person is exposed to illicit substances, the higher the risk of addiction.
The strength of relationships within the family, structure of authority and overall happiness can affect the development and acceleration of abuse. While the family is not the sole source of influence on many young adults, they play one of the most critical roles as they determine an individual’s earliest social interactions.An impoverished environment can increase the likelihood of abuse. Poverty can affect generations of family members due to lack of education and limited access to employment or healthcare. Poverty-stricken environments leave many experiencing lifestyles including incarceration, homelessness and poor health. Those who drop out of school, are unemployed or live in unsafe areas are at higher risk, especially if their home environment has already exposed them to drugs and/or alcohol. Exposure to these elements early in life leads many young adults down the same paths and can be difficult to escape. In addition, the effects of poverty can leave many without access to treatment. Treatment and detoxification is difficult to accomplish, especially with limited resources. Those who have the ability to use public health services often have difficulty maintaining it long-term due to family responsibilities. Poverty is a vicious cycle that perpetuates itself as generations are born and raised in lifestyles of high-risk exposure.
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