There is not an addict out there that has not asked themselves consciously or subconsciously “Why me?” Addiction has been around for centuries. The first sign of any type of treatment was as early as 1750 when sobriety “Circles” were formed within various Native American tribes¹. We live in a time where addiction viewed medically is ever-changing. Alcoholism was first recognized as an illness in 1956 with addiction following in 1987². There are many studies that have been done on addiction associated with the brain. After initial exposure no one chooses how their brain will react to drugs or alcohol. So why do some people develop an addiction, while others do not? Let us look at the leading study:
Genetics: Scientific research has shown that 50-75% of the likelihood that a person will develop addiction comes from genetics or a family history of the illness. Exactly how genetics factor into addiction, and what we could do to protect against their influence, is something scientists are actively researching.
Environment: Research shows that growing up in an environment with older adults who use drugs or engage in criminal behavior is a risk factor for addiction. Placing oneself within or even around addictive behavior can lead to addiction. Protective factors like a stable home environment and supportive school are all proven to reduce the risk.
Development: Addiction can develop at any age. But again, research shows that the earlier in life a person tries drugs the more likely that person is to develop an addiction. Our brains aren’t finished developing until we’re in our mid-20’s. Introducing drugs to the brain during this time of growth can cause serious, long-lasting damage.
Within those 3 areas, there is extensive research going on to better understand addiction. Yes, the choice may have been yours the very first time but that moral decision fades away and is possibly not even part of the equation after the first use of alcohol or drugs. We now know from studies that some drugs change the whole chemistry of the brain. Harmful consequences, shame, and punishment are simply not effective ways to end addiction. A person cannot undo the damage drugs have done to their brain through sheer willpower.
Brain imaging studies from drug-addicted individuals show physical, measurable changes in areas of the brain that are critical to judgment, decision making, learning and memory, and behavior control. Scientists believe that these changes alter the way the brain works and may help explain the compulsive and destructive behaviors of addiction³. As a society we have dealt with addiction and addicts in many ways some primitive, some by punishment, others by ignoring, ostracizing, ridiculing, judging, and unbelief. We have found over time that it takes professional help, encouragement, faith, family, and a better understanding of just what addiction does to a person. Those closest to the addict are usually the ones most hurt, but they can also be the most effective tool in the recovery process of an addict. Unfortunately, they usually end up unwittingly helping to multiply the damage and devastation one sees with an addict. Those affected by an addict also need professional help and education on addiction to understand when and when not to be involved in this terrible battle where there are few winners. The numbers are shocking – 85% of addicts relapse within the first year of recovery and all of this depends on factors such as age, length of addiction, method of abuse, etc. Overall, only 30-50% of those battling addiction recover from their addiction with many factors determining these findings. The ability to understand why someone abuses drugs can be complicated. After separating unresolved, underlying medical and/or mental conditions, it may be as simple as chronic pain and the list goes on.
So, you can see the question of “Why me?” is an important part of one’s recovery and many have found the answer. You must know the answer is in the recovery and not in the addiction. As an addict the question of “Why me?” played an extensive role in my personal recovery. As I was able to somewhat answer the question of “Why me?” I found myself on a path to a healthy understanding and an ability to forgive, which in turn allowed positive growth in my battle not only with my addiction but also the battle I constantly had going on within my being. I wish I had the answer to why this took so long. All I know is that once the faith element was part of my recovery I saw things through a different lens. The answer was always there, but the path to getting there was long as I was a good traveler with no real map.
- White, W. (1998). Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America. Bloomington, IL: Chestnut Health Systems.
- National Institute On Drug Abuse – https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2014/02/addiction-free-choice
- “Drugs, Brains and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, July 2014.