Before addiction has touched our own life, it can be hard to imagine that everyone is vulnerable to such a disease. It can be scary to open our hearts to people who suffer from addiction, because it is such a difficult road to recovery. It is much easier to simply blame the individual for their own addiction, because humans, especially Americans, feel better about with holding assistance if they do not feel it is deserved.
Isn’t the first try of a drug a choice? In some cases–yes, absolutely. But nobody chooses to become addicted. There are many people in the world that use drugs and alcohol in non-compulsive ways that do not cause harm. Why do some people become addicted and others do not?
There are some risk factors for addiction. The following list is taken from the National Institute on Drug Abuse:
- Biology. The genes that people are born with account for about half of a person’s risk for addiction. Gender, ethnicity, and the presence of other mental disorders may also influence risk for drug use and addiction.
- Environment. A person’s environment includes many different influences, from family and friends to economic status and general quality of life. Factors such as peer pressure, physical and sexual abuse, early exposure to drugs, stress, and parental guidance can greatly affect a person’s likelihood of drug use and addiction.
- Development. Genetic and environmental factors interact with critical developmental stages in a person’s life to affect addiction risk. Although taking drugs at any age can lead to addiction, the earlier that drug use begins, the more likely it will progress to addiction. This is particularly problematic for teens. Because areas in their brains that control decision-making, judgment, and self-control are still developing, teens may be especially prone to risky behaviors, including trying drugs.
ACES: Adverse Childhood Events and Addiction
The biggest factor in predicting addiction is something called ACES. ACES stands for Adverse Childhood Events. ACEs are trauma that an individual endured while they were growing and developing. This trauma has a big impact on who we become, how we behave, and how we react to stimuli later in life.
Dr. Daniel Sumrok, director of the Center for Addiction Sciences at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Medicine thinks ACEs are such an important part of addiction that he suggests reframing the field and replacing the word “addiction” with “ritualized compulsive comfort-seeking.” Sumrok suggests that the most efficacious way to treat addiction is with assisting medication and most importantly, therapy to address the childhood trauma.
People use drugs because it helps them feel better. If the person is already feeling pretty good and has a pretty good life, it feels good to take drugs to party every now and then.
However if a person has unresolved trauma and a stressful or unhappy existence, or experiences chronic pain, it is much easier to fall into using drugs more regularly. It is easy to become addicted when drugs are the only thing one has found that helps them feel better.
This is why we are all vulnerable to addiction. Despite precautions, anyone’s life can enter a hard spot, and without proper supports such as monetary or mental health support, drugs might be the only thing one feels they have to turn to.
A large portion of people who are addicted to opiates never even started out as illegal drug users. Many people were prescribed opiates for pain relief and were unable to stop.
Our addiction rehabilitation systems in this country do not offer the full therapeutic support that people really need to heal from ACES. Slowly, mental health and addiction services organizations are merging and offering integrated care.
Why Should we Have Empathy?
We should empathize with addicted individuals. Yes sometimes addiction drives people to do horrible things, things that could be thought to be unforgivable. It is important to note that empathizing with addiction does not equate to condoning bad actions. But once we understand addiction, why it occurs, and how hard it is to stop, it should be a no-brainer to hold empathy for these humans.
We are all human beings. We all deserve help.