Why am I Addicted and What Can I do About It?
June 2010

Why am I Addicted and What Can I do About it?


There is a long standing debate in developmental psychology over the influence of nature over nurture, or heredity versus environment. The consensus is that both influence the choices we make in life. Studies of twins raised apart show that aspects of personality could be as much as 70% inherited. It is also well established that poor nurturing in childhood can lead to serious personality disorders in adults.


A famous study by George Vaillant in Canada, following a large cohort of people through their lives, attempted to find what attributes might predict the development of alcohol dependence. He found that environment did not seem to have any influence and that the one predictor isolated was having genetic links to Northern Europe, particularly Ireland. Studies of adopted twins have found that identical twins are much more likely to both develop alcoholism than fraternal twins, and adopted children are much more likely to be alcoholic if a biological parent was alcoholic. Certainly, if you have a lot of addiction in your family tree, then you are more likely to develop an addiction. Sometimes alcoholism skips a generation, because the next generation develop a dislike for drinking from their observation of their parent's behaviour. This is a complex relationship because parents model behaviour, and children, especially if they identify with that parent, will adopt the behaviour. Additionally the behaviour of the addicted parent can so traumatise the child that they become addicted to cope with the emotional turmoil that their upbringing has caused, and their inability to cope with daily life as an adult.


It has been established that there is a genetic marker associated with severe addiction, the A1 allele. People with this marker have lower levels of dopamine (the feel good neurotransmitter) in their brain. However, as well as depression there are also a number of psychological conditions that have addiction associated with addiction:- many forms of anxiety (obsessive compulsive disorder, social phobia, panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder) which may have developed from a dangerous environment or a traumatic event, bipolar disorder, where people might abuse substances in the manic phase or the depressed stage, antisocial and other personality disorders where people might behave recklessly and have no fear of using too much.


So you may have a hereditary tendency, experiences in your life that lead you to need to use, psychological disorders that increase the likelihood of using, you may have never been given boundaries to temper your behaviour, you may have damaged frontal lobes by injury or alcohol use and no longer be able to control your impulses to use, or you may be a person who has used too much for a long time and your body has simply adapted to the substance, making it difficult for you to give up (your body and your lifestyle prevent you from feeling good without the substance). Any combination of the above factors are possible.


Once you have established that you have a problem and that you have tried and failed to stop using, the mechanism of how you came by the problem is of interest but not vital. It is important that you seek help. Every hospital in New Zealand has a drug and alcohol service that is free that you can attend. In some centres there are Non-Government Organisations and Maori services that you can choose from that are also free. These services provide a mixture of individual counselling, groups, and intensive day programmes. There may be a support house available that you can move to while you give up. If these programmes do not work there are other residential programmes available providing two month to two year live in courses, depending on need. Residential services are also free except for an accommodation cost.


If you would like confidential private counselling for addiction, I provide a multi-pronged approach. Relaxation and visualisation will reduce your anxiety in your daily life and reprogramme your subconscious picture of yourself as a person who no longer uses addictive substances. Education about cues to relapse, unhelpful ways of thinking, lifestyle balance, anger and stress management will occur. Also help with memories of past traumatic events, grief, guilt, self esteem, and obsessive thoughts will be given. Family sessions will be available. You will be given homework, and you will need to be prepared to go outside your comfort zone.