Causes of Addictive Disorders

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Today it is known that the appearance of an addiction is influenced by many interacting factors.

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Genetic factors. One key factor is the person’s genetics. This is particularly true for alcohol addiction, where it is estimated that up to 50% of a person’s vulnerability to the disease is genetic in origin.

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Environmental factors. The environmental stimuli that a person is exposed to during their life also play a key role. For example, the sooner drug taking starts in a person’s life, and the more that drug is taken, the greater the risk of developing an addiction. The way a drug is taken is also important. Ways of administering drugs that involve a higher blood concentration and which give a more immediate effect present a greater risk, especially those that are injected.

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Personality. Certain personality traits and mannerisms also increase the risk of having an addictive disorder. Traits such as impulsiveness, or the tendency to seek out new sensations.

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Mental illness. The presence of a mental illness also increases the risk of developing an addictive disorder.

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Social factors. Social circumstances are very important in the development of addictions. The more accessible and economic a drug is, the more widely it is consumed and the more addicts there are. If, in addition, it can be advertised (as in the case of alcohol and tobacco), the problem becomes even bigger.

All these interrelated factors mean that once a person starts using a drug, there are a series of changes in a specific part of the brain known as the reward circuits. These circuits are responsible for telling the person that the behaviour benefits them and is therefore worth repeating (like, for example, eating, interacting with others, and enjoyable activities). The changes that drugs cause in these circuits help perpetuate the consumption, generally involving an increased dose and frequency. In turn, this increased consumption aggravates these biological changes and establishes a circular process that eventually triggers addiction.

In general, addiction is considered a chronic disease that presents after the continued consumption of a drug over a relatively long period of time. The main triggering factor of the disease is, therefore, taking drugs.

The clinical course of addictive disorders is often remitting-relapsing, in other words, periods of drug abstinence alternate with periods of high consumption, known as relapses. Relapse has several triggers, including:

  • psychological distress (sadness, anguish, irritability).
  • drug-related stimuli (for example, seeing other people taking it).
  • craving, which is defined as a very intense and often uncontrollable desire to take the drug.
  • physical abstinence, which occurs when a person has a physiological dependence on the substance and stops using it.

Substantiated information by:

Antoni Gual Solé
Clara Oliveras Salvà
Hugo López Pelayo
Magalí Andreu
Mireia Graell Gabriel
Pablo Barrio Giménez
Silvia Mondón

Published: 16 September 2019
Updated: 16 September 2019

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